There was a moment, about a quarter of the way into Wonder, when I stopped breathing, felt like I had been sucker-punched in the gut. Up until that point, I was enjoying the novel and thought it was good, but I had this distracting feeling in the back of my mind that it just wasn’t quite realistic enough. Let’s just say I was wrong.
Wonder is the story of August Pullman’s 5th grade year at Beecher Prep, told not only through his voice, but also those of his sister and her friends, and his classmates. August would like nothing more than to be seen as the normal kid he feels he is, but he knows that is not likely to happen. He has a genetic birth defect (actually a rare combination of defects) that has caused his face to look shockingly different from a “normal” face, even after multiple surgeries. Auggie says, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” When he goes out in public, people look away, whisper, stare, or sometimes even scream. But aside from the difference in his appearance, Auggie is a pretty normal kid–he loves Star Wars and science; he plays with his dog; he argues with his older sister; etc.
August has never been to school before–in large part because of all of the surgeries he has had to undergo–but now he is starting middle school at a small private school. Needless to say, it is not easy to be the new kid in middle school, but if you look as different as August does, it’s almost unimaginably difficult. Yet, R.J. Palacio does, I think, an admirable job of trying to imagine what it’s like for August, as well as for his family and classmates. There were some moments that were a bit too feel-good for me, but in the end, I was thankful for those moments. There were certainly plenty that were not at all feel-good, and for a book written for kids (I would say it’s appropriate for ages 8 and up) about such a heavy topic, there is a real need for balance. This is at times a sad book, but it is not a depressing book, and ultimately I would describe it as triumphant.
I’m curious to see how kids react to this book. I think many of them will like it for the well-paced story and humor, and will take something away from it as well. Highly recommended for kids who like realistic fiction, and probably a good book to use as a class read for talking about issues like bullying and prejudice.
UPDATE: Kid response to this so far is really good. I am reading the first few chapters in class, and getting a fair number of holds on it from both boys and girls (6th graders this week; will have 5th next week). My own kid (5th grade) read it and loved it.