Book Review: Wonder

by R.J. Palacio
Published by: Knopf
Form: Purchased Hardback
Big Themes: Acceptance, Popularity, Bullying, Friendship, Siblings, Loss of Loved Ones, Growing Up

August Pullman (Auggie) was born with rare and severe facial deformities.  Despite years of surgery, Auggie will never have a normal face.  Growing up in and out of hospitals, Auggie has never been able to attend normal school.  But with no more surgeries on the horizon, Auggie’s parents decide 5th grade (the start of middle school) would be the best time for Auggie to start getting a mainstream education.

What I Loved:

Different Perspectives: The first chunk of the book is told from Auggie’s perspective.  We need to hear his perspective first.  We need to understand what his life is like, how he feels about himself, and most importantly, how utterly normal he is (other than his face).  Within the first dozen pages, I was flying through the book because I was rooting for Auggie.  Because we began in his perspective, I learned how stacked the odds were against him, but also how lovely he was on the inside.  I can’t imagine the book starting from any other character’s point-of-view because we needed to see life as Auggie did in order to love him and root for him.

However, I thought the different perspectives as the book progressed were brilliant.  Each perspective showed how characters dealt with getting past appearances and also dealing with societal pressure/peer pressure for being different. Many of the characters who befriend Auggie also have to deal with being bullied due to their association with Auggie.  Your average kid reader won’t ever be in Auggie’s shoes, but they definitely will be in the shoes of someone with a choice to make: befriend the outcast, bully the outcast, or ignore the outcast.  Seeing how different kids deal with the pressures of befriending an outcast/victim is so valuable both to the story as well as relevant to a child’s real life experiences.

Authentic Voice: The author so clearly understands kids and teens.  She nails the voice, thought processes, worries, behaviors, and interests of the kids/teens in the book.  I truly believe this is one huge reason why this book has done so well.  The heart of the book is about how kids/teens interact with each other, and if the author hadn’t gotten this right, the whole book would have fallen apart.  Her readers wouldn’t have bought the story if the actions/reactions of the characters didn’t feel 100% authentic.

Balance of Happy and Sad: I tend to avoid sad books, but especially depressing contemporary fiction.  I avoided John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars for the longest time because I didn’t want to read some depressing, contemporary book about kids with cancer.  I read for fun, and that book did not sound fun.  I felt similarly about this book.  Yeah, it was getting rave reviews from everyone.  But after reading the description… I did not want to read some depressing book about a kid with a deformed face.  However, the author manages a beautiful balance of happy and comedic moments with sad, tough scenes.  I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and there is an uplifting ending.

Relevant Themes: Bullying has certainly been front page news, and this book addresses so many different angles on the topic.  In a perfect world (where teachers actually had some say in book selection and curriculum), I’d love to teach this novel (ideally in whatever grade kids begin middle school) in conjunction with Gordon Korman’s Schooled, Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, and perhaps also Cynthia Lord’s Rules.  It would provide a great opportunity to look at how different authors approach topics as well as do comparative character studies.  But most of all it would give students an opportunity to examine the choices we have in the roles of bully, victim, and bystander.  I believe a unit composed of these books would foster empathy and positive decision-making at an age when growth of character is so important.

An excellent book that I would recommend EVERY MIDDLE SCHOOLER read.  Great food for thought regarding how we judge people on appearances and how individuals can make small choices that have a ripple effect on their community as a whole.  Five Stars.

3 comments on “Book Review: Wonder

  1. fakesteph says:

    I’m so glad you liked this one! I’ve only heard great things about it!

  2. Wow, this one sounds great! I mean, I already knew from other folk that this one was well loved, but this is the first time I’ve gotten a good feel for what it’s about and what makes it such an excellent read. So glad it has an uplifting ending because I really need that when books are otherwise sad or intense.

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