Publisher: Corgi Children's.
Paperback, 315 pages.
Release date: January 3rd 2013.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.
I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?
The universe has not been kind to August Pullman. Born with a severe genetic condition which has marred his face and his life, he’s never been able to escape the stares, the gasps of horror and, once, the kids running away from him in the street. Now he’s about to go to mainstream school for the first time, he’s not sure what’s worse: the idea of going to school and being made fun of, or the idea of staying at home and never knowing what the real world is like.
Brave and frank, smart and bittersweet, Wonder by R.J. Palacio is not a book that’s easy to forget. Being a kid is tough at the best of times, but being August is another thing entirely. When I first picked up the book, I was convinced he was going to be one of those too-good-to-be-true, illness-has-made-me-a-saint kid heroes, but if anything, he’s the complete opposite. He’s got the annoying little brother tone down to a T and he does all those kid things that kids do, like laughing at toilet humour and trying out attention-seeking behaviour. He reads like your average ten-year-old kid. You love him because of his big heart and because he’s just so real.
But, like any other ten-year-old, August has a very direct world view and he can be very selfish. He can’t comprehend the fact that other people have problems too, and who can blame him? By providing alternate viewpoints and dipping separately into the lives of those around him, the novel is not only enhanced, but becomes complete. I loved the alternate viewpoints so much, I just can’t imagine reading the story any other way.
Of all the book’s characters, including Auggie, Via was by far my favourite. She’s strong and independent, but lonely, too, As a teenage high school student, she’s facing a very different experience to her younger brother, and although she loves him, she's grown up knowing that her problems will always come second to his. She’s fighting a constant battle between two sides of herself: the one that wants to resent Auggie, because that would be easy and would finally get her parent’s attention, and the one that knows she cares too much for her little brother to ever say anything that would hurt him. Auggie needs a loving, supportive family more than ever now he’s in middle school. It’s sad to see her parents push Via aside – through no fault of their own – and watch her have to deal with the fallout all by herself, but more than that, it’s a fantastic feeling to finally see her work up the courage to open up and get the TLC she needs.
Another unexpected favourite was Via’s boyfriend Justin. He does a lot in a few chapters of narration and readers will really appreciate him for that. Summer, too, is wonderful – she’s the kind of person everyone wishes they could be.
Wonder is not just about the good guys, however. Kids are just as likely to be nasty as they are to be nice, and with their lack of brain-mouth filter, even the ones who don’t mean it have the capacity to be hurtful. He may see ‘shiny’ smiles from pitying adults and hear conspiring whispers from strangers in the hallway, but they’re nothing compared to the downright sadism and cruelty of fifth-grade bullies. Palacio captures the experience and atmosphere of Auggie’s school perfectly. The overriding mob mentality, the desire to fit in and be like everyone else. Auggie’s classmates don’t quite have the courage to stand on their own two feet yet, and this is painfully clear when he becomes the victim of widespread isolation and even physical abuse at the hands of the bullying ringleader Julian.
Wonder is about forgiveness and learning, and while it’s also shown that there are just some people in life who really aren’t worth the effort, there is a huge emphasis on the simple act of being kind. I can’t express how much I adored that. We read books about epic challenges and harrowing situations all the time, but Wonder does something so different and refreshing in its simplicity that you can’t help but be touched by its message. What’s stopping us from being kind to one another? What’s so hard about being a good person that it often doesn’t even cross our minds as attainable? Wonder is a book which reminds the reader that nobody is perfect. It reminds you that could have absolutely no idea what’s going on in a person’s life behind their everyday façade, and we need to take that into consideration before we speak, get angry or say something we might regret. Because it may be easy to choose being right over being kind, but that’s not what we were put on the planet to do.
In short: Wonder is such a great, great book. My words really aren’t worthy of describing it. Just read it. Love it. Spread the joy.