Terri's Reviews > Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
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Aug 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: highly-recommended, 35-consideration

August Pullman was born with a severe facial deformity and multiple health problems that resulted in his having 27 surgeries in his ten short years of life. They also led to his being home schooled for his grade school years. As he prepares for fifth grade his parents decide it is time for Auggie to face the world, but is the world ready for that face? The Pullmans have enrolled Auggie at Beecher Prep, a small, private middle school with a good reputation. The principal, Mr. Tushman, is kind and welcoming, but the same cannot be said of everyone at Beecher. Auggie is used to the shocked looks, the eyes that veer slightly away from his face, the forced smiles, and the overly-cheerful conversations that most adults use when they meet him. He has come to expect the taunts from other young people, but he hopes that going to school will give him the chance to show others that he is a normal boy despite his abnormal looks.

Shifting points of view elevate this book above the typical unfortunate protagonist sob story. Auggie opens the tale and proves himself to be bright, funny, and surprisingly well-balanced... a normal ten-year-old boy who just happens to have a severe facial anomaly. The situations and relationships that develop have the right feel, and the dialogue is realistic. Readers will laugh and cry with Auggie and then get a chance to see how others feel and think about him as the point of view shifts to his older sister Via, his pretty friend Summer, his supposed best friend Jack, and others. These contrasting perspectives reveal undercurrents and causal relationships that are missing or only hinted at in Auggie's telling. There is one narrator who seems ill-chosen... Justin contributes little or nothing to the plot and tone. It would have been a welcome substitute to have heard from the villain of the piece instead. But that is a small quibble, and perhaps it's asking too much of a writer to humanize the bully by sharing his thoughts and emotions with readers.

Bullying is of great concern in our schools and society. Despite many well-meaning programs, bullying continues, and adults often feel powerless to combat it. My mother used to tell the story of a little girl who prayed, "Dear God, please help the bad people to be good, and help the good people to be kind." Those words echoed through my head as I read Palacio's remarkable debut novel. This book deserves to be read and discussed in intermediate and middle school classrooms. Hopefully it will go a long way toward making that little girl's prayer a reality.
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