Review: Wonder

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
Published by Knopf BFYR on February 14, 2012
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 315
Source: NetGalley

I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

Middle school sucked for me. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. During the entirety of middle school, I never had any real friends. I may have looked normal, but I was still definitely an outcast. I cannot imagine going through what Auggie went through. His strength of character to be able to face that situation is incredible.

Part of why he could survive the experience was just Auggie. He’s a smart kid and really loved the learning part of school. When people stop to notice, he’s funny. Having gotten to fifth grade and maintained a fairly positive attitude despite the staring and the people screaming at his visage is just courageous. In addition to his own strengths, he was lucky enough to have supportive people in his life. His parents and sister would do absolutely anything for him; their family is so loving and happy. Plus, he made a couple of friends to stand by him on the first day of school, Jack and Summer.

This book nearly made me cry. Multiple times. For those who don’t know, this is pretty rare. Unlike one of my friends who I will refrain from naming, tv shows and books are not constantly making me cry. The tears that threatened were caused both by sadness and happiness, which is pretty awesome.

Kids are cruel. Never once have I doubted this, having been the victim of some verbal bullying myself as a child. Being surprised or scared at an unfamiliar face is unfortunate, but really cannot be helped; that response is instinctual. What is absolutely awful is the way that people continue to judge him, refusing to get to know Auggie’s amazing qualities. Just because he’s ugly, they do things like pretend that if they touch him they’ll get The Plague. Like ugliness is catching. It’s not like Auggie has a transmitable disease.

Even worse than kids, who know what they’re doing but at least have ignorance as some amount of an excuse, are the parents. One parent in particular tries to get Auggie kicked out of the school, because she feels like he’s brought the level of the school down, even though he’s a trillion times smarter than her son. This same mother photoshopped Auggie out of the class photo.

Anyway, I’ll stop with that now, because, really, you should read the book for yourself. I also want to mention that the method Palacio used to tell the story was highly effective. The narrative begins and ends with Auggie’s perspective. In the middle, you hear from classmates, his sister, and some of his sister’s friends. By bookending the story with Auggie, you’re really able to see how much he has grown, and the other people’s perspectives reveal how much he touched their lives too.

I was planning to use one of the songs quoted in the book, but, just as I was finishing, this song came on my shuffle and it really struck a chord, since the book is all about friendship growing out of dislike and prejudice.

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