I’ll start with this: I think Wonder by R.J. Palacio should be compulsory reading at schools. Perhaps for children around the age of 10, which is the age of the main character, August Pullman.
August (“Auggie”) was born with severe facial disfigurement. Although his face is the first thing that others see, R.J. Palacio has created in Auggie a rich and intelligent young boy. The reader quickly understands that he should not be defined by his appearance alone.
Palacio should be commended for delving into a topic which others may shy away from. The book has received strong praise from various critics and readers. The momentum built by the book (and subsequent movie) gives me hope that society does care about the values extolled in the book: kindness and open-mindedness.
The author encourages the reader to look not with pity but with compassion. It gives an insight into Auggie’s life, and the life of his family and friends. Auggie himself is mature beyond his years, recognising and understanding the attention his appearance draws:
“They were just being dumb kids. I know that. I kind of wanted to tell them that. Like, it’s okay, I know I’m weird-looking, take a look, I don’t bite. Hey, the truth is, if a Wookiee started going to the school all of a sudden, I’d be curious, I’d probably stare a bit!”
On the subject of kindness*, this is one of my favourite quotes:
“Mr. Browne’s September Precept:
When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”
A clever feature of this book is that it is not told exclusively from Auggie’s point of view. By shifting the narrative to his friends and family, we understand the impact Auggie has on others, and that they have on him.
At first, I was reluctant to “leave” Auggie. As mentioned, Palacio has created such a special character in Auggie that I didn’t want to stop reading “his words”. Luckily, we do return to Auggie again later in the book. His parents do not have their own chapters, which I consider a positive thing rather than a flaw. This book is unapologetically focused on the young characters.
I read this book during my recent trip to Brazil, and funnily enough the movie version was available on the plane during my flight home. Needless to say I watched it. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. The film makes some tweaks to fit better with a movie telling of the story, but is still true to the essence of the book.
Wonder is an easy but emotional read, which can be appreciated by children and adults alike. It’s short enough to read in a couple of sittings, but the story will stay with you long after the final page.
*Note: In research for this review, I came across a very interesting critical review on Goodreads. It makes some excellent points about the role that kindness ought to play. It also questions the happiness Auggie should feel in his “happy ending”. Although I didn’t agree with all of it, it is always good to hear a dissenting voice to challenge us and make us think further. You can read it here.