Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Source: Hardcover, Published February 14, 2012 by Knopf
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.
Wonder is a superb novel. Palacio introduces us to ten-year-old August Pullman and his family. Auggie, as he is called, has spent most of the first ten years of his life in hospital and at home. Fiercely loved and protected by his mom, dad, and older sister Via, Auggie has not been around kids his age on a regular basis. Until now. Accepted and enrolled into grade five at an academically rigorous school, Auggie gets his first experience of a life outside of home. And, as he expects, his face is going to be a big deal.
I went into the book thinking that it was going to be entirely from Auggie’s perspective. But it is not! I am amazed at how Palacio was able to so strongly and distinctly write the viewpoints from MULTIPLE characters. I found myself compelled by all of them, but Via’s in particular stood out for me. Auggie thinks of himself (and wants others) to think of him as just an ordinary kid. He knows he looks different, and he gets why people stare, point, or ask him ‘what happened’. But what is his sister’s life like? What does she think? When we get Via’s perspective, we are let into her mind: how she feels about having the her and her family (and life) revolve/orbit around Auggie. She loves her brother more than anything in the world, but upon starting high school finds herself feeling guilty for wanting to be known as Via, not just the girl whose brother is August.
Under less capable hands, I think the story could have felt emotionally manipulative or too obvious in its messages and voice. While I can be a big ol’ softie, I can also be very skeptical in reading novels of this type- particularly if I feel a writer is coming off as disingenuous. But I think that the characters and writing are so candid (and guileless) in the story’s development- that Palacio makes it work well. While the ending and wrap-ups may strike some as overly enthusiastic and somewhat implausible, I believe in its possibility. Auggie, throughout the novel, is seen by others as many different (and not so kind) ways: a brave person, a wonder, as a strange kid, a mutant, a freak, a kid that’s been dealt an awful hand. He remains forever thinking of himself as ordinary on the inside, but also just beginning to understanding how he, Via, along with his mom and dad, have caused ripples of change in those around him.
There is a lot of joy, a lot of heartache, and even more love and kindness in this novel. I felt those emotions running over each other throughout most parts of the book. Wonder is technically classified as a middle-grade novel, but I would highly recommend to pretty much anyone who reads children’s or YA (and especially for fans of contemporary stories). I found it to be an extraordinary story and beautifully written. If you’ve been moved by such novels as The Fault in Our Stars, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, So B. It, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, or The Great Gilly Hopkins, then I think you will enjoy this.
Note: This review, written by me, originally appeared on Fabbity Fab Book Reviews. Minor edits may have been made.