A review of RJ Palacio’s Wonder
My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
August Pullman wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things. He eats ice cream. He plays on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside.
But Auggie is far from ordinary. Ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.
Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted – but can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?
• • •
Let me start by saying I really, sincerely loved this book so very much. I knew it from early on and the warmth and feelings just enveloped me while reading this.
While this book deals with Auggie’s very specific experiences living with a physical difference, it feels like such a universal experience that so many kids without physical differences also go through…Maybe it feels even more so because, especially as it’s told from his point of view, Auggie is so obviously normal.
This book touched me on a personal level. I loved how honest it felt. I loved Mr Browne’s precepts. I enjoyed reading the story from different characters’ perspectives. This helped you see not only how Auggie sees himself, but how other people see him and why while also shedding light on the reasons behind people’s actions.
I loved all the characters. Auggie is admirable not because he has endured more surgeries by age ten than most people do in their entire lives, not because he deals with his situation with humour and grace, not because he is a sweet little boy, but because he is so remarkably real. He is also sometimes selfish, discouraged and irrational. I had the impression Palacio really did research on the technical and social aspects of the lives of people affected by these kinds of physical differences. And it’s not just Auggie. All the characters – victims, bullies, teachers, parents – felt very true. It is not a super deep character analysis, but it picks up the little mannerisms and familial traditions that help build that relatable truth in the characters.
Once or twice I thought to myself “I’m not sure what this character has to offer the story really…” but everyone affects or is affected by Auggie in different ways. By the end of each chapter I had learned to appreciate those perspectives I didn’t think I cared much for too.
Wonder feels, overall, like a very safe story (in that ‘middle grade’ sort of way), but there were teary moments for me throughout. The main reasons this ended up not being an absolute favourite for me were partly because (1) I’d read the first 226 pages (out of 311 not including the further 92 pages of the Julian chapter) all in one day, then my reading was broken up over the next two days in an un-concentrated, choppy way and my attentions were divided. That was my fault. But also because (2)…
My copy came with the Julian chapter.
I wasn’t terrible keen on the Julian chapter. It wasn’t bad (and some people might really like it), but I really do prefer the story as a whole without it. It wasn’t as engaging, it felt a little predictable and so a little clunky, and the best part of it for me was his Grandmother’s story. I think hearing from Julian’s perspective might have been more interesting if it were part of the original book and came earlier on. The book’s original ending felt perfect to me and the Julian chapter…just didn’t feel as solid. Without it I think I might give Wonder a full five stars.
All of the cultural references will undoubtedly make this book feel dated in no time but, for now, I enjoyed how ‘in the zeitgeist’ it felt. Something about that was nice. It felt rooted in a time that was very current and relatable.
I found Wonder so engrossing that I could have easily consumed this book in a day if not for the fact I was having a busy few days when I decided to pick it up. I actually think something about reading most of it in a massive chunk just felt right. If you pick up Wonder, I would suggest you put aside a day where you can be on your own and just take it in…while you ugly cry the whole way through. What, that was just me? Oh. Okay.
This is not just a story for kids by any means. Like I said earlier, it feels ‘safe’ in that way that I think most YA/middle-grade tends to be – nothing gritty here! – but I think it works well. It makes it not too difficult for younger audiences to take in while helping readers confront a sensitive topic in a moving, engaging way.
This is certainly a book I would recommend.
genre: YA/middle grade, contemporary, fiction
publisher: Corgi Childrens
date read: 11 February 2015
recommend for: YA/middle grade readers, people without a mental or physical difference
pros: heartwarming & moving story, sympathetic characters, important messages, diversity
cons: a little predictable nearing the end, unnecessary ‘bully angle’ chapter (but this is not included in all editions!)