Mike Mullin's Reviews > Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
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May 16, 12

Read from May 14 to 16, 2012

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Among the best novels I've ever read--note I didn't say best middle-grade novels. This story is so powerful, so beautifully told that it transcends genre. I recommend it for middle-grade students. I recommend it for teenagers. I recommend it for adults--even if you've never read a middle-grade novel, even if you've read and hated middle-grade novels, try this one.

A few months ago, after reading a string of YA novels that equated inner beauty with exterior (an infuriating and lazy trope that has infected YA like, well, vampirism), I spent a few fruitless moments raging at the universe, asking where was the brilliant fiction about ugly people. Normally the universe ignores my rants. In this case, however, the universe dropped WONDER into my lap. (Actually I checked it out from my local library. If the universe had literally dropped it into my lap, I imagine that would have hurt. The universe is nothing if not really, really tall. But having read the library copy, I'm going to buy two tomorrow. One for my wife's fourth-grade classroom, and one for me to keep and re-read. It's so good that I want Ms. Palacio to get paid twice.)

August Pullman was born with a facial deformity so severe that it and the necessary surgeries prevented him from attending school until the fifth grade. And so his first day at school isn't as one of a flock of terrified kindergarteners--instead, he becomes the chum in the shark tank of middle school. What follows is a beautiful, heart-breaking, terrifying, and funny tale about an extraordinary kid, bullying, and, ultimately, the wondrous power of kindness.

The writing is perfect for the story--simple yet lovely, with not an extra word or chapter to mar it. Last year I had a brief conversation with Bruce Coville, in which I argued that a young adult novel with five points-of-view likely wouldn't work or sell, and Bruce argued that I was wrong. Well, I was wrong. (Duh, I know, this was BRUCE FREAKING COVILLE--of course he knows far more about this topic than I!) Anyway, Palacio uses SIX POV characters to get her story across, and does it so seamlessly that there's never a moment where I wondered why she switched viewpoints, or wished she'd get back into Augie's head--although she does, wisely, both begin and end the novel in his perspective.

And Palacio doesn't stop transcending genre tropes there, either. There are parents in this book. Lovely, caring parents, of the sort you either had or wish you did. If you've read much YA or middle-grade fiction recently, you know how rare and therefore precious this is.

So, I know this is a random collection of fanboy raving, and I should really wait to hit Save until I've gone back and edited this review a little, but then you'd have to wait to find out how awesome WONDER is and START READING IT FOR YOURSELF! So I'll clean this up later and repost here and on my blog. In the meantime, why are you still reading this? You could be reading WONDER!
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Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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message 1: by Claire (new)

Claire Datnow Thanks for the review of this heartwarming novel.I heartily recommend Wonder. Mike, as an author of middle school Eco mysteries, I too am upset by the shallow and often callous messages embedded in popular books for Tweens and teens. The natural world is filled with "magice" we don't need voodoo to divert kids from engaging in a meaning ful way with the wonder and beauty of the real world.


Mike Mullin I don't mean to imply that I dislike books that contain magic or voodoo or even vampires--I love many of them. I just dislike the equating of internal and external beauty that happens in some YA.


Zohar - ManOfLaBook.com Wow, what an endorsement. Good job.


message 4: by Cheralaine (new) - added it

Cheralaine Cole-Johnson I saw a review for this (in Horn Book?) and was a bit ambivalent; I usually like my books to be happy. I do agree that YA has long used appearance to equate with good and evil. It's not only lazy, but extremely unfair. I think I will give this one a go.


Mike Mullin Bah, what does the Horn Book know? (I'm kidding!) All I can say is that I connected with WONDER at a deep, emotional level, found the writing suited the characters beautifully, and the book exploded several overused tropes of its genre. Triple win!


message 6: by Cheralaine (new) - added it

Cheralaine Cole-Johnson I'm glad you're kidding. I spend so much time and money on reading, that I use reviews to help guide me in discovering new authors. It's how I found you!


Margaret Cheralaine, I generally like my books to be happy also, but I didn't find Wonder to be unhappy. Sure, there were parts in which I was weeping & I'm not sure how I'll manage the read-aloud that I'm planning this year. All that said, Wonder had a hopefulness and a humanity that made it a pleasure to read. Several kids who had begun by bullying responded to Augie's humor and personality, cementing a friendship that I hadn't expected. (Yes, I'm the 4th grade teacher that Mike refers to. I also rated this book with 5 stars.)


message 8: by Cheralaine (new) - added it

Cheralaine Cole-Johnson I will put it on my list. Thanks!


Cyndi Thanks for another spot-on recommendation. I couldn't put this down. Such a heart-warming story!


message 10: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Mullin Glad you enjoyed it, Cyndi!


message 11: by Adam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Adam Gray Wonderfully said Mike!


Joshua Yates (yoshi,jaws1,joshi) Wonder is horrible!!! boo!!!


Grace Talinabupato This book is great so far!


Susan I, too, loved Wonder for the reasons you gave in your, astute and witty, review! I also loved Ashfall and Ashen Winter. Just bought Darla's story. Love your writing!


Margaret Susan, I just showed your comment from yesterday to Mike. He said, "awww." I think you made his day. Thanks for your support. Look for Sunrise (book 3) and there's a fourth book under contract. :)


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