Annalisa's Reviews > Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
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's review
Apr 30, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: middle-grade, issue, contemporary
Recommended to Annalisa by: Wendy Darling
Read from April 22 to 24, 2012 — I own a copy

Since this is a middle grade novel, it took me a while to get used to the more simplistic sentence structure and dialogue, but the themes in the novel are by no means simplistic. I expected it be a hard-handed story about bullying. I expected the wrongs done to August to be done by well-defined villains that were easy to hate. The book is much more honest than that.

What broke my heart in August's opening chapters was how accepting he was of the shock his face is. I kept asking myself how I would have reacted had I met August and it saddens me to admit that I probably would have struggled to hide my own surprise at that age. I've been haunted by my inability to hide shock at something someone said or did, but what if that shock was about someone's face? It's such a simple thing, that moment of surprise that's hard to conceal, that August has to live with his whole life. In August's own words "sometimes you don't have to mean to hurt someone to hurt someone." While there is a well-defined bully and friends who hurt with cowardly statements, August gets his feelings hurt by just about everyone he meets, everything from the gasps to the "shiny" smiles. And that can make you evaluate the way you deal with people far more than an over-the-top bully you would never be.

My favorite reaction to August came from his English teacher who used his precepts as a teaching moment. "Be kinder than is necessary. Because it's not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.” And there in lies the central theme of the book. After reading the book you'll want to be kind to everyone, and not because Palacio told you to be so, but because she showed you with humor and sadness and joy and anger. While there are a few good quote-worthy moments in the book, like the one above, it's not loaded down with "chicken soup for the soul" sweetness. It finds the perfect balance of moments that make you self-evaluate, a fast-paced plot that makes you feel for August, and central to it all, a character that's easy to love from the get-go.

I did have a few minor complaints. When the chapters shifted POVs, I was originally disappointed. Scenes were repeated and I struggled at first to bond with some of the characters the way I had with August. But it gave Palacio a chance to develop her other characters and show us how a person like August affected other people's lives. I particularly enjoyed Jack's insecurities about being poor at a private school and Via's inner conflict not wanting to be known as the girl with the deformed brother. I just wish if Palacio was going to give us so many POVs, she would have given us the bully's POV. She gives us hints into his motivation, but a few scenes inside his head would have been powerful. Also, stylistically, I wasn't crazy about the chapter written in letter and text-message form, although the letter from the bully's mom insightful. I think she could have accomplished the same had she give us his POV, and also been able to develop him more. But those are about my only complaints. A book like this is hard to tackle, and Palacio does so brilliantly.

Along with well-developed characters, the setting is strong too, the invented district in New York and the private school setting with assignments that are way more advanced than my 5th grader's. It was particularly strong on the field trip to Pennsylvania. I felt like I was there with them out in the night field watching the movie. I think this was intentional on Palacio's part, to make you feel like you were with August for what happens next. It makes you think not only about the way August feels to be treated the way he is but the way we should feel when those around us are mistreated.

In the beginning I got choked up for sadness over August's plight in life, but by the end I cried tears of joys. I felt like I had experienced this year with August and learned along with him and his classmates. A story like this could be heavy-handed or manipulative, but it is not. It is heartwarming and thought-provoking. As soon as I closed the book, I handed it to my own ten-year-old who also devoured it.
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Reading Progress

04/22/2012 page 63
20.0% "This book is breaking my heart."
04/24/2012 page 313
100.0% "Cried tears of sadness and joy in this one. Thanks, Wendy Darling, for the recommend. This was definitely a good read. Highly recommend."

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Wendy Darling I'm so happy you loved this, Annalisa! Awesome review. :) I can't wait to read more books by this author.

Annalisa Thanks so much for the recommend. I can't wait to read more either.

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