Author: R.J. Palacio
I have to admit that despite all of the laurels thrown at this book - or perhaps because of them - I approached Wonder with skepticism. Is it a genuinely strong work or is it simply popular due to sympathy for the main character, a boy named Auggie born with a severe facial deformity? Is it a flash in the pan until the next great tear-jerker comes along? But I have also been curious. And I'll admit to bias. The fact that my daughter liked it speaks volumes.
Wonder inhabits a world I know very well: middle school. Crazy man that I am, I teach middle school. For me, the choice of setting alone was a stroke of genius for this story. Sure, it's familiar for the target audience but it's also the ultimate test for an insecure child bearing obvious physical anomalies. Schadenfreude - it bleeds from the walls in an American middle school. At no time in our lives are the people around us so relentlessly unforgiving. Auggie is not only new to the school but new to the very concept of school, having only been taught at home before. Intellectually, he's more than ready. Socially, he has a very high mountain to climb.
We see Auggie's story from multiple perspectives. Three of the eight chapters are told from his own point-of-view. The others are by Via (his sister), Summer (his lunch table companion), Jack (his friend), Justin (his sister's boyfriend) and, my personal favorite, Miranda (his sister's friend). I expected a tale of cruelty and insecurity and, to be sure, there is plenty of both. But as the book's structure reveals, there is a lot more to every story than is immediately apparent to the narrator.
I know plenty of kids like each of the principals. I even know some with tougher rows to hoe than Auggie's. I see them every day. But that's not the point of the book. We all know these kids, because they are us. We are all a little bit Auggie, a little bit Jack, a little bit Miranda (I've known a lot of Mirandas!), maybe even a little bit more Julian (the bully) than we might care to admit. I had a pretty rough time at Auggie's age (5th grade - 10-11 years old) but I know well enough that he and kids like him suffer experiences I can't possibly fathom. Jack may be the closest to me - the well-intended kid who still occasionally says dumb things that hurt people unwittingly. Though truthfully, I was probably the two Maxes - the D&D boys.
Ultimately, Wonder is about kindness. Through selfless acts, we not only help others but save ourselves. I love Miranda's story in particular because she does not completely understand her own extraordinary act of kindness even as she's in the midst of it. Yet through the act, she redeems herself and fixes a small part of her own fractured world.
Perhaps predictably, the ending is very happy. I'm not ashamed to admit that I teared up quite a lot by the end. I still wonder if 20 years from now, people will still appreciate this story or if it will be remembered only as "that cute little book about the kid with the face." For the record, I'm hoping for the former.
Part of the deal for the book swap was that everyone had to blog about the books. That part was my idea. Here is My Wife's post about the book I gave her.
Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month. This month's link list is below. I'll keep it open until the end of the day. I'll post July's tomorrow. Meetings are the last Friday of each month. Next gathering is July 25th.