What Are We Reading: Wonder by R J Palacio
Stephanie Lane-Elliott says:
R. J. Palacio’s Wonder has been getting lots of buzz in the States, racking up starred reviews and spots on “Best of” lists. I approached it cautiously, curious whether it could live up to the hype. What I found was a surprising, unique, and exceptionally warm-hearted novel about being different—and dealing with those who are different.
Wonder is the story of 10-year-old August Pullman, born with a facial deformity so severe, his parents have homeschooled him to protect him from potentially being mistreated by classmates. When, as August begins fifth grade, the family decides that he should have the chance to experience “real” school, August’s fear—as well as that of his parents—seems justified. After all, August’s face is unusual enough that almost everyone he meets treats him strangely, if not downright rudely. And middle school is a tough time for everyone, even those with perfectly average faces.
Palacio cycles from August’s point of view, to his sister Vi, her old and new best friends, August’s new friends and enemies at school, and finally back to August. And August does encounter the expected meanness—but he also meets with a surprising amount of kindness.
As I was reading, my only criticism of the book was that the kids August encounters seem kinder than what I would expect of the average middle schooler. In Palacio’s New York, even an eleven-year-old boy is sensitive enough to remember being cruel to a stranger several years before—and kind enough to want to rectify it.
But as I read further into Wonder, I began to realize that perhaps that isn’t a flaw at all. Palacio’s characters are unsettled and confused by August’s appearance and their own discomfort, but when it comes down to it, they consciously choose to be kind. And in the end, is there any harm in portraying the world as a little kinder than it may currently be, to the kids who have the capability to change the world through their actions? August’s classmates may be unusually sensitive, but their slow, bumpy acceptance of August—and his equally bumpy decision to trust them—still feels realistic. Wonder does what all great children’s books do: it creates a world that readers will want to be part of, for just a little longer.