Thursday, September 6, 2012
Review: Wonder by R. J. Palacio
August Pullman is ten years old and starting school. Previously, he was homeschooled, because Auggie was born with a facial deformity. Auggie, as well as the other people in his life, have mixed feelings about him entering school, but perhaps Auggie will prove to everyone, as well as himself, that with a heart of gold, he can accomplish things beyond everyone’s expectations.
If this book doesn’t get its own slew of awards this year, there is no justice in the literary world. WONDER is unmatched in the middle-grade contemporary genre—but, in fact, it is not middle-grade so much as it is a winning tale that transcends reading age groups.
There are many great things I can talk about regarding WONDER, but my favorite thing about it is how R. J. Palacio successfully uses multiple perspectives to weave together a very full portrait of Auggie and his struggles and triumphs. Palacio treats the story humanly and realistically. Just as in real life, characters are not perfect in this book: Auggie’s older sister, Via, struggles with her guilt over her occasional flashes of resentment and embarrassment over her brother, while Auggie’s friend Jack learns how to balance social expectations with his personal feelings about their friendship. As readers, then, we might prefer some characters over others, but we cannot hate any of them, because we fully understand where they come from.
Auggie, the protagonist, is a character that simultaneously possesses the youthful optimism of the truly good and the observational skills of one who has borne more than he should have to. My heart jumped each time he made an insightful observation on subtleties in human behavior, such as the way he remarks on that “one-two look” people give him and his face. You know what he’s talking about, because you’ve either received it, or have done it (the latter doesn’t make you a bad person, as this book shows). Auggie’s narration is so honest and unflinching you feel like you should pity him, but you can’t, because he just wants to be a normal boy…only he is too good of a person to be considered just normal. You know how that movie Say Anything has the tag line “To know Lloyd Dobler is to love him”? Yeah. To know August Pullman is to love him.
WONDER is marketed as a middle-grade novel, at least in the US, but I think it can be even better appreciated by older readers who are aware of both the innocent and not-so-innocent actions of children and also how cruel the world can be. Regardless of your age and genre preferences, WONDER will leave you in a mess of strong emotions and have you better appreciating your blessings. Thank you, R. J. Palacio, for reminding us of what it means to be human.
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Cover discussion: It isn't that much to look at, but I like that color blue, and after reading the book, I fully appreciate how the cover doesn't overshadow the book's contents or set up misleading expectations.
Knopf / Feb. 14, 2012 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $15.99