There is no denying that Wonder by R.J. Palacio is a book for older children but adults would be robbing themselves of a terrific and heartwarming story if they let it pass them by. Wonder is the debut novel from Palacio who actually used to design book jackets and has now found herself moving into writing, rather than designing (she didn’t design her own cover, but seriously, how good is it?!).
Her first foray into fiction sees her take on the story of a young boy by the name of August who was born with facial disfigurements. August, otherwise known as Auggie, has always been homeschooled by his mother but now finds himself having to set foot in the wide world of public school. Auggie is used to staring eyes when he walks down the street, he knows the look people give him is one of fear and unknowing. His fear of school is totally understandable and Palacio captures the fear and his subsequent journey brilliantly.
The book is told from various narrative perspectives and covers the first year of Auggie’s school life. Starting with August telling us about his induction day and opening semesters, we also join his sister, Via, as she tells of life with Auggie and also hear from his friends and other people who make his acquaintance throughout the book. It’s an interesting way to tell the story as we hear about each person and their struggle to move through moments with this extraordinary young man in their life.
It’s interesting to hear lots of different perspectives. We even hear from Via’s boyfriend Justin and get to hear from an outsider being brought into the fold. His chapter is quite hard to read due to its structure as Palacio hasn’t used any speech marks or even capitalisation. It doesn’t stop the message getting through however and adds to the encompassing of August’s story.
An excellent touch from Palacio is how we never get a distinct picture of how Auggie looks. We read in snippets about how his ears are “small cauliflowers” set far too low on his head and how his eyes droop, but there is enough left behind for the reader to let their imagination take the reins. In fact Auggie opens the book stating “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”
It’s obvious from the get go that the book will feature many tear jerking moments and plenty of awkward situations for August and his family. Thankfully Palacio is never too heavy handed and also doesn’t smother you with a saccharine balance. Though there is a balance so you’ll never be left tired from kids bullying Auggie and you’ll never be left rolling your eyes after an endearing moment in the school cafeteria.
However, there are some very cruel moments. Whether its kids just being dumb or parents being small-minded. The one moment that left me most aghast was reading that a parent had photoshopped August out of the class photo and distributed them to other parents. But through it all August is strong, brave and inspiring.
The only drawback for me was how “TV Movie” it felt in places. It all felt a little predictable as to how the book ended. For children it will help to deliver a message, for me it didn’t disappoint me greatly to read a slightly cliché ending but it took away a little of the earlier impact from the sadder moments. I don’t feel I’m explaining that brilliantly, but it’s hard to do so without giving away the ending.
The novel will offer different readers differing things. Kids will (hopefully) walk away having learnt more about the world, how it works and how it can occasionally be cruel. They will hopefully see what makes us all unique and learn some lessons throughout the narrative. Palacio isn’t shy about dropping messages of kindness and hope through the pages, particularly in the precepts set by Auggie’s English teacher. These lessons won’t be lost on adults but hopefully they will just see a beautiful story that can’t fail to lift you from your everyday life and fill you with a form of hope.
Published by Bodley Head Children’s Books. This book was purchased and read on Kindle.
If you’re interested in the novel please check out Nikki-Ann’s interview with R.J. Palacio over at Notes of Life