Richie Partington's Reviews > Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
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Jan 17, 12


Richie's Picks: WONDER by R.J. Palacio, Knopf, February 2012, 320p., ISBN: 97800-375-86902-0; Libr. ISBN: 978-0-375-96902-7

"But if you can't look inside you
Find out who I am too
Be in a position to make me feel
So damn unpretty"
--T-Boz Watkins & Dallas Austin

"Rat boy. Freak. Monster. Freddy Kruger. E.T. Gross-out. Lizzard face. Mutant. I know the names they call me. I've been in enough playgrounds to know kids can be mean. I know, I know, I know.

"I ended up in the second-floor bathroom. No one was there because first period had started and everyone was in class. I locked the door to my stall and took off my mask and just cried for I don't know how long. Then I went to the nurse's office and told her I had a stomach ache, which was true, because I felt like I'd been kicked in the gut. Nurse Molly called Mom and had me lie down on the sofa next to her desk. Fifteen minutes later, Mom was at the door."

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with severe and life-threatening craniofacial abnormalities. After a young lifetime of wall-to-wall corrective surgeries, he still stops people dead in their tracks when they first encounter his visage.

And now ten year-old Auggie Pullman, who has been kept relatively protected -- living in a New York City neighborhood where he is a known quantity, and being homeschooled by his mother -- is attending a real school for the first time. It is a private middle school to which his parents submitted an application without telling him first.

WONDER took me by surprise. I've read enough stories about the outsider in middle school, so there are some things you come to expect. But what I did not expect was for the story to really take off a quarter of the way through when the point of view suddenly switches to that of Olivia, arguably the book's pivotal character. "Via" is Auggie's high school-aged sister, and she had once upon a time been a doted-upon first child and first grandchild until Auggie was born and immediately sucked up all the oxygen in the room with his medical issues.

Then, further on, when I thought we would once again return to Auggie's perspective, we instead move on to the points of view of a series of other young characters who have become part of Auggie's story and have their own relationships with him and their own takes on and his situation.

Sure, there are lots and lots of stories with multiple perspectives. But I am really impressed by the power brought to this story through the use of the format and through the respect that the author shows for her middle school audience in probing the honest and sometimes complex and sometimes unpretty emotions inside the story's young and adult characters.

Justin (Via's high school boyfriend):

"they're waiting inside when i get to the restaurant. the dad gets up and shakes my hand, and the mom gives me a hug. i give auggie a hello fist-punch and kiss olivia on the cheek before i sit down.

"it's nice to meet you, justin! we've heard so much about you!

"her parents couldn't be nicer. put me at ease right away. the waiter brings over the menus and i notice his expression the moment he lays eyes on august. but i pretend not to notice. i guess we're all pretending not to notice things tonight. the waiter. my tics. the way august crushes tortilla chips on the table and spoons the crumbs into his mouth. i look at olivia and she smiles at me. she knows. she sees the waiter's face. she sees my tics. olivia is a girl who sees everything."

"I hope when you decide
Kindness will be your guide"
--Jackie DeShannon, "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"

As I've previously pointed out, when I've written about other stories involving name-calling and intolerance, middle schoolers learning about acceptance amongst one another can oftentimes serve as THE pivotal step in their growing up with a predisposition toward accepting those individuals and groups from outside one's own community, religion, race, sexual orientation, and country. Thus, WONDER is both a great and an important story. The Schneider Family Book Award people will no doubt be giving this one a long look.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
BudNotBuddy@aol.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_...
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