Wonder by R J Palacio
This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. Like ever. It was completely breathtaking. And laugh out loud funny. And sob alone in your car sad. And restore your faith in humanity happy. And crippling hatred towards horrible judgmental humans sad. Complex and incredible.
It’s the story of August Pullman, born with a staggeringly unlikely combination of genes that left him with an incredibly unusual face. Years of life threatening complications and plastic surgeries have kept him from attending school. But now he’s going into grade 5 at a real school.
That’s all. Just the story of a boy going to school for the first time. But it’s so much more because Auggie is an amazing boy. Most of the story is told from Auggie’s perspective but we also get to hear Via (his older sister), Jack and Summer (August’s new friends), Justin (Via’s boyfriend) and Miranda (Via’s former best friend). And there’s so much I’d love to talk about, but I really, really, really think this should be required reading before you can get a driver’s licence so I’m going to try not to spoil anything.
Instead I’ll just mention a few things that I thought the book handled really well. One would be disability. August opens the book explaining that he thinks he’s just a normal boy, but the world will never see him that way and he says he won’t describe his face, because whatever we’re thinking is probably worse. And as the book went on I found myself keeping track of the little details dropped about August’s face but it kind of made my uncomfortable with myself. After all, does that make me like the people in the story? Preoccupied with August’s face and missing the smart, fun, kind kid underneath? But the book also does a good job with handling that too. Jack particularly says that August’s face is hard to get used to, but once you do, he’s a great friend and that’s why I think the book has a complex and realistic description of how we handle people who are a little bit “other.” We have to adjust to them, and that doesn’t make us bad people, but it does hurt them, because in their world they are as normal as anyone else.
I also really enjoyed how the book wasn’t just about August’s struggle. Each of the narrators hurt really badly in their own way, the thing that makes them “others” wasn’t visible, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. Via has struggled her whole life with the feeling her parents care more about her brother, and despite loving him, is struggling with her identity as his older sister. Summer, August’s very generous friend lost her father a few years ago. Jack’s family is extremely poor and most of their money pays for his attendance at the prep school, so even with his friends he feels isolated. Justin aches for parents who care about him at all, longs for Via’s loving family. Miranda’s parents divorce drives her life in a different direction suddenly, away from Via and Auggie. I really liked the idea that everyone’s got a pain they hide, but August just doesn’t have that option, and that makes his life that much harder.
Lastly, although it was a little heavy on the feel-good factor, the impact Auggie has on his school makes it really hard not to hope that the world is getting better, despite some pretty terrible events, and sometimes that’s just nice.
Also note that the audio production was really well done, with different narrators doing each character’s voices in turn. That was neat.
I saw a talk once by an author who said we needed our children to read because reading encourages empathy. This book is the absolute prime example of that. It’s not subtle but it’s important.
Last movie I watched
I Frankenstein. So I liked the literary references and the effects had their moments for sure, but over all I think…. WTF?!
Last TV episode I watched
Charmed! One of the creepiest ones ever ’cause the baddy was actually just a person doing crazy things. So you know, life like.