Ages 10 and Up
R. J. Palacio
Wonder is R.J. Palacio’s first book. Raquel Jaramillo, the woman behind the pseudonym, has spent twenty-nine years in the book world as an art director and book jacket designer. I can honestly say that I don’t recall ever loving a book as much as I love Wonder. Full disclosure: I read the majority of this book through tears, some of sadness, others of joy.
It’s a perfectly crafted story and an emotional roller coaster, as well as a reminder of the human condition and the importance of kindness. After I finished reading it I began handing it off to friends insisting they read it as well.
The story is told in eight parts with six different people sharing the first person narration: Auggie (the main character), his sister Via (short for Olivia), Via’s boyfriend, Justin, Via’s ex-best friend, Miranda, and two of Auggie’s classmates, Summer and Jack Will. Although the characters range in ages from ten through sixteen, Palacio adeptly switches between narrators. Each character possesses such a distinct and separate voice that readers will have no trouble believing they’re reading the experiences of different people. Her skilled storytelling and compact chapters may easily lull readers into finishing the book in one sitting, as I did.
August Pullman (aka Auggie) seems like a totally ordinary ten-year-old boy; he loves Star Wars, video games and his dog. He’s starting 5th grade in the fall. But Auggie is anything but ordinary; he was born with severe facial deformities and multiple health problems. Until now, he’s been home-schooled by his mother because he was never well enough to attend school. He’s had 27 surgeries—the first at four months of age, the last about ten months ago.
Auggie is reluctant to start school—he knows how people see him, and there is no avoiding seeing him.
“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”
Though he soon comes to like the idea of attending school, it’s obvious that there will be challenges. Auggie just wants to fit in, make friends and be a “normal” kid but his presence is distracting. And, as in real life, the true character of a person becomes apparent, for better or worse, when their world is challenged. The mother of a classmate attempts to have Auggie removed from the school; though she is unsuccessful, her actions are damaging nonetheless. She decides to move her son to another school instead; these events are all too realistic and terribly sad for everyone involved.
As each person’s story unfolds, readers begin to understand what it feels like to be this young boy whose only wish is to blend into the crowd, to never be noticed.
“You can’t exactly blend in when you were born to stand out.”
Via allows us to step into the life of a sibling to a kid with extremely present and endless needs. And though uncomfortable, Jack Will’s reason for pretending not to be Auggie’s friend in front of their classmates is understandable. These people are just trying to survive in their own skin.
Though Auggie is the one who must face the world every day without a mask, real or imagined, the other characters are all hiding struggles of their own. But Auggie has something many of the other characters do not: a supportive and loving family. That’s what helps to make Auggie the extraordinary boy that he is. Getting a glimpse into the lives of the separate characters, it’s undeniable how very crucial that love and support is.
Wonder takes readers on an amazing journey, from fear and ignorance to education and empathy and finally love and understanding. No person can know what it’s like to be another person; the closest we can come is to read about other’s experiences. This book provides that opportunity—to step into someone else’s life, however briefly, and see the world from someone else’s eyes, feel another’s feelings. Wonder is a profound reminder that every person you see is facing struggles of their own, whether visible or not, and that a bit of kindness and empathy can make a world of difference.