Wonder Book Review

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Ten-year-old August Pullman or Auggie will be going to school for the first time this year. He is bright, funny, and smart, traits that most people never get to see because they can't get past his face. Born with a rare genetic defect, Auggie's face is like none others and for some kids that is simply too much. As the school year progresses, the reader follows Auggie, his sister, and his new friends as they all struggle to find normal.

Told from varying perspectives, Auggie's story is definitely one of triumph and despite its extremely didactic nature is a good read for for children and adults to comprehend, understand, and put into practice. It is nice to see the different perspectives like Auggie's sister and friends at school. I wasn't happy with the character of Justin, Auggie's sister's boyfriend, whose perspective felt rather forced and the lack of capitalization drove me batty. Sadly, there was no perspective of the "bad kid" Julian, which would have been rather interesting.

As good as I thought the book was I think that there are a few issues with it, one being its contemporary references, which I am sure will date the book rather quickly, like those 'Saturday Night Live' skits that aren't so funny anymore because you don't know the context. The last few chapters of the book, having returned to Auggie's perspective felt very very didactic as if Palacio just wanted to be sure that her readers really got the lesson they were supposed to learn.

As I cannot help but do, I have to also look at these kind of books through the lens of my Masters thesis on disabilities in children's literature. In my analysis of disabilities in children's literature I found that there were five major guidelines that, if followed, create well-rounded, emotionally resonant, and creative stories that will stand the test of time. Wonder met all but one. You will find no stereotypes, no labels, within these pages. The characters all speak for themselves and interact with the non-disabled characters in true-to-life ways. All the characters are well-rounded with their own interests, thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. The one that Wonder did not meet is that there is no real plot beyond the disability. Wonder is about Auggie's disability, it is the catalyst and the crux of the story. Remove the disability and there simply is no book. I would have loved for there to have been a little bit more to the story than just kid with a disability goes to school.

During my research I discovered that there is always a reason, a catalyst, for writers who choose this subject matter. Palacio is no exception.

     "About five years ago I took my kids to visit a friend of mine who lives out of town, and at some point during      the day we found ourselves sitting next to a little girl who looked the way Auggie looks in the book. We were in front of an ice cream shop, and she was sitting next to us with her mother and a friend. My younger son was only about three at the time, and he reacted exactly the way you might think a three-year old would react when seeing something that scared him: he started to cry—pretty loudly, too. And though my older son, who was ten at the time, knew better than to stare, his expression said it all despite his best efforts: he looked like someone had just punched him. It was terrible, on all counts, and I got up as quickly as I could to remove us from the scene—not for their sakes, of course, but to spare the little’s girl’s feelings. As I pushed my younger son’s stroller away I heard the little girls’ mom say, in as sweet and calm a voice as you can imagine: “Okay, guys, I think it’s time to go.” And that just got to me. On the drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about how that scene had played out. It occurred to me that they probably went through something like that dozens of times a day. Hundreds of times. What would that be like? What could I be teaching my children so they could understand how to respond better next time? Is “don’t stare” even the right thing to teach, or is there something deeper?"

I definitely think Palacio has done this with her novel, giving readers a chance to go deeper, teaching them. Parents could learn a lot from this book too, so that they do not make the same mistake as Ms. Palacio, scooping up their children and whisking them away either because their child is crying or out of fear that their children may ask the "wrong" question. 

Oh, and I love the red cover. A lot.


Anonymous said...

I loved the book, made me think a lot and how I should treat other people. Thank you for inspiring me.