Wonder by R.J. Palacio
BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS – REVIEW BY SARAH CASSIDY
Wonder is a runaway hit from first-time novelist R.J. Palacio. I will admit I was not immediately sold on the premise—it is simply about a boy with a pronounced facial deformity. Many customers raved about the novel, which was loved by both themselves and their children. Ultimately I gave it a chance and was delighted by this story about the blurred lines between ordinary and extraordinary.
We meet August “Auggie” Pullman through his self-appointed introduction as an ordinary kid. Auggie may be ordinary under the surface, but he faces unique challenges because of his startling appearance. (This is a book that will best be enjoyed before the movie, as it is repeatedly stated that words cannot prepare anyone for the grotesqueness of Auggie’s features).
The novel begins with a mountain that might be a molehill to other ten-year-olds: going to public school for the first time. Auggie’s narration perfectly captures that era of wanting to be invisible while yearning to be noticed and appreciated. While reading I cheered for his small victories—the painstaking making of friends and triumph over bullies.
Wonder revolves around Auggie but is narrated by a host of others, ranging from ten to fifteen years old, who all face the difficult experiences of growing up—the choice between what is right and what is popular, divorcing parents, changing friends, etc.
Via, Auggie’s older sister, adjusts to high school despite feeling that the world is moving while she is standing still. She is caught between the love of her brother and the desire to be known as more than the sister of a freak. Like Auggie and his peers, Via grows throughout the novel, learning what it means to be a good person.
Auggie and Via’s friends lend their voices to the story as well, really showing the reader that people have their own, often complex, motivations for the way they treat us. To this end I found Wonder an exercise in empathy that would have made my own navigation of middle school much easier!
What I loved most about Wonder is the authenticity of each narrator’s emotions. Author R.J. Palacio does not belittle the mountainous molehills that affect pre-teens, but instead allows narrators to face them and move forward with dignity.
I wish I had more plot to relay for this review, but like Auggie, Wonder is a would-be ordinary story that blossoms into something truly wondrous.