Friday, December 14, 2012

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

What can I actually say about the book Wonder that hasn't already been said?   You are most likely familiar with the story already, I'm sure.  Your probably also know that it is about 11 year old Auggie Pullman, who was born with a severe facial deformity and after being home-school and living a semi-protected life, he finds himself enrolled in a prep school and soon becomes the object of the other kids fears and cruelty.

The story of Auggie's 5th grade year is told in first person chapters by Auggie himself, his older sister Via (short for Olivia), Summer, his first real friend in  5th grade, Jack, his second real friend in 5th grade, Justin, Olivia's boyfriend and Miranda, Via's former best friend and still a friend to Auggie.  It is through their narratives that we get the whole picture of what life is life for and with a child who looks so very different from everyone else.

So in a way, Auggie's story is also their story.  How can it not be?  If this were only Auggie's story, we would only know his perception's about these people who play such important roles during that 5th grade year.  But because they are speaking to us in the privacy of their own chapters, we learn the truth about who they are, and what they feel.  None of them dislikes Auggie, but they do admit that because of how he looks, he makes some things difficult for them.  That can be a hard thing to admit, in fiction and in reality.  Admitting it, though, helps them grow.  Auggie is already a kind kid, and wise beyond his years as so often happens with kids who are faced with difficulties in life.  the catalyst that enable them to change, making Wonder a kind of multi-coming of age story.

So, why do I think it is the characters surrounding Auggie who change? At the beginning of the school year, Mr. Brown, Auggie's English teacher teaches his student the about precepts - essentially, rules or principles to live by.  Over the door of Beecher Prep School is the precept KNOW THYSELF.  Mr. Brown's goal is to help his students to find out what kind of people they are.   Auggie has already learned who he is. He may not always like the way things are for him, but he knows himself.  Right off the bat he tells us
"I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.  I mean, sure, I do ordinary things.  I eat ice cream.  I ride my bike.  I play ball.  I have an X-Box.  Stuff like that makes me ordinary, I guess.  And I feel ordinary inside.  But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids rung away screaming in playgrounds.  I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go."  
The other kids, the "ordinary kid" have much to learn about themselves.  And to help them get started, Mr. Brown gives them their first precept:  WHEN GIVEN THE CHOICE BETWEEN BEING RIGHT AND BEING KIND, CHOOSE KIND.  For some, being kind comes easy and their simple acts of genuine kindness without ulterior motive, like Summer sitting with Auggie at lunch when no one else will, facilitates their growth.  For others, like Jack, it is not so easy.  And for still others, like Julian, it is a precept they will probably never learn and that makes for such a sense of sadness.  But of could Julian learn kindness, when it was his mother who photoshopped Auggie out of the class picture.

While Wonder is an excellent book for everyone to read, two things bothered me.  First, Via, Auggie's older sister, lets it be known how she feels about always having to take a back seat to him.  I think that is a valid reaction and would have liked to have heard more of Via's story.  The other thing that bothered me was that Auggie's parents were too perfect.  They never got irritated, angry, annoyed.  No matter how loving parents are, they are just not always so even tempered - under any circumstances.  But these are minor complaints.

In the end, Auggie's story is an important story, about him and about ourselves.  And luckily for us, Mr. Brown sums it all up nicely:"Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character.  These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness."

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

If you were inspired by Wonder, you may want to visit Random House's Anti-Bullying Campaign and share your story and

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't planning to read Wonder until November, but I was showing my kids the book trailer and they were so excited that I started it today. These resources are great!


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