I’ve had “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio on my shelf for over a year now, and I’ve been half-afraid to tear open the plastic seal because so many people have been raving about it and I’m always wary of being disappointed.
So last Sunday, I booked a spa appointment for two hours of uninterrupted reading, and I was hemming and hawing in front of my bookshelves when I came upon “Wonder” and decided to finally read it.
“Wonder” is a #1 NYT bestselling middle-grade novel about August “Auggie” Pullman, a ten-year old with a “mandibulofacial dysotosis,” which makes him look different from other kids. After having been homeschooled all his life, Auggie starts middle school at Beecher Prep and has to deal with schoolwork and teachers, making friends and fitting in, his overprotective parents, and being comfortable in his own skin.
Auggie is a lovable protagonist, and given all that he has gone through, it’s amazing how he keeps his courage and optimism, making him a character to root for from cover to cover. I like how the perspective shifts from Auggie to the other characters in different sections of the book, which gives the reader a better understanding of what Auggie has to deal with, and how it affects the people surrounding him. I especially loved the perspective of Via, Auggie’s sister, because her internal conflict was so intense, and yet so human, so realistic at the same time.
After reading this book, I understand why it is so well-loved. It’s simply written but hard-hitting, and I like how it deals with serious themes but isn’t weighed down by them — in fact, there are plenty of
warm and fuzzy light-hearted moments that make this book a pleasure to read, and it will make you laugh as much as it makes you cry (and cry I did — people at the spa were staring at me because I couldn’t disguise the fact that I was crying, and the girl doing my nails actually had to ask if I was ok).
While most of us will never know what it is truly like to be in Auggie’s shoes, I’m sure everyone at some point in their life will have experienced some form of isolation (that each of the characters have to deal with in the novel), and it’s a great reminder to all readers, regardless of age, to practice kindness, understanding, and respect for individual differences, and to be courageous enough to do so even in the face of adversity.
I also like the whole “precept” idea: basically the English teacher, Mr. Browne, gives them a precept each month ( E.g. The precept for September: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. — Dr. Wayne W. Dwyer). At the end of the year, over the summer break, the students are all challenged to come up with their own “words to live by” and I think it’s a great exercise. The postcard precepts at the end of the book make up one of the best parts of the novel and by the time I got to Auggie, I was crying again: “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the world.”
Here’s my own precept, one I’ve had for years, from my favorite classic, E.M. Forster’s “A Room with a View” (which people will recognize from my personal email signature):
“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand,
and it is no good moving from place to place to save things,
because the shadow always follows.
Choose a place where you won’t do harm,
and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”
So because I was so hung over from this novel, I ended up buying two more Wonder stories on my Kobo: “The Julian Chapter” and “Pluto.” (About USD2 /P86.11 each, though with discount codes I got each for under P60).
“The Julian Chapter” features the main antagonist in “Wonder,” Julian Albans, and we get to discover what lies beneath the surface of the most popular boy in school. The blanks are filled in on what happens to Julian — why he doesn’t join the nature trip, or graduation — and we get to the heart of why he acted the way he did. I didn’t expect to be moved by this novella but I was, because it really makes you take a look at the nature of bullying, not to condone the action, but to explore the underlying causes of the behavior and still practice kindness.
“Pluto” features someone readers of “Wonder” have read about but not actually encountered: Auggie’s childhood friend, Chris. Having moved three hours away from their old neighborhood, Chris and Auggie’s friendship isn’t quite as it used to be, and Chris feels how difficult it is to be Auggie’s friend more than ever. But on a night when Chris’ family undergoes a crisis, Auggie and his family make Chris realize the value of friendship, and how “good friendships are worth a little extra effort.” It’s a novella that takes place in less than 24 hours, and takes a few minutes to read, but it really manages to drive the point across. Needless to say, this made me cry all over again.
I normally don’t bother with novellas because either I’m not enough of a fan of the base novel, or I find that they only tend to be a reiteration of events from a book you’ve already read but in this case, neither of those reasons applied. Both “The Julian Chapter” and “Pluto” enhanced the experience for a book I wasn’t ready to let go of just yet, and I’m glad I read them — I wish they’d release a compilation of these “Wonder Stories” down the line (I see “Shingaling,” Charlotte’s story is now on pre-order).
So I guess I’ll join in the chorus now: go read “Wonder,” and you’ll be a better person for it.
“Wonder,” hardcover (P599 at National Book Store) 5/5 stars;
“The Julian Chapter,” ebook, (P86.11 on Kobo) 4/5 stars;
“Pluto,” ebook, (P86.11 on Kobo) 4.5/5 stars