Spoiler alert: please don’t read this if you haven’t read Wonder and don’t want a major plot point revealed.
In a recent review of my book, Wonder, The Irish Times reviewer questions why Darth Daisy, the family dog, had to die. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this question. I’ve read a few blog reviews in which the writers were actually angered by Daisy’s passing, intimating that I put it in for the sole purpose of eliciting tears in my readers. (Interestingly enough, I’ve gotten no complaints from anyone about the fact that the grandmother in the story dies, a plot point that reduced me to tears when writing but is not at all as controversial, it seems, as having the family dog pass away.) One dog devotee actually pointed out that dying dogs was a trend in children’s books that had to stop, which leads me to wonder if that person believed that I had sacrificed Daisy to be part of some literary clique of canine-killing authors.
So let me explain. I love dogs. I’ve loved them my whole life. There was Fella, who died young. Caesar, who died old. And Dune, who died most recently. I now have two dogs: Bear, a shiny black mutt that looks like a scrappy mix between a shiba and a shepherd; and Beau, a goofy chocolate labradoodle who hasn’t yet finished growing into his gigantic paws. I know firsthand how the passing of a dog really is one of life’s big heartbreaks, and I want to go on record that I would never trivialize that experience by turning it into a shameful plot device to get people to cry.
The reason I made Daisy die is this: I needed something to happen to the Pullman family that was somehow larger than them and all their myriad problems. That’s all.
I wanted Auggie to experience something that had nothing to do with him or his face or his friends or his problems. Daisy’s death doesn’t just happen to him, after all—it happens to all of them, the whole family. And that’s a real growing-up moment for Auggie, a moment when he sees that his parents could grieve over something that has nothing to do with him. “Everything’s not always about you,” Via tells him, and it’s possibly the first time in his life that he finally really understands that.
It’s a pivotal moment for Auggie—not only does he lose the one creature in the world that doesn’t see him the way everyone else sees him, but he very briefly loses his place in the pecking order of the Pullman family. As they all go through their own mourning process, no one, for a little while, is thinking about him. That’s a first for Auggie who, let’s face it, is a wee bit spoiled. This becomes a transitional point in the novel. After this, Auggie really does start to become more independent.
As much as I would have loved to spare Daisy, her death becomes part of the evolution of Auggie Pullman: her memory strengthens him when he thinks about her, and her life—and death—expands the narrative of his life beyond what it always had been. That’s what dogs do for us, after all: they expand the story of our lives in incalculable ways. They enrich us. They love us unconditionally. And when they die, our lives are changed forever. That universal experience is one of the many things that unite us all as human beings, no matter what our differences are, no matter what our faces look like.
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