Book: Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Genre: Fiction/Middle Grade/Children’s/Contemporary
I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
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?
When you pick up a book about a primary school kid with an illnesses that’s destroying his face, you’d expect it to be a depressing story. Not quite. Wonder manages to be both heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time, mixing humour and honesty in a way that puts your emotions through a spin cycle.
I didn’t think I’d be tearing up at a novel for primary school-aged readers, but this book managed that. August is a warm, lovable character, and a huge Star Wars fan – he starts school with a Jedi braid in his hair, removing it only after this painful exchange with a school bully:
“Who’s your favorite character?” Julian asked. I started thinking maybe he wasn’t so bad.
“What about Darth Sidious?” he said. “Do you like him?”
Maybe no one got the Darth Sidious thing, and maybe Julian didn’t mean anything at all. But in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Darth Sidious’s face gets burned up by Sith lightning and becomes totally deformed. His skin gets all shrivelled up and his whole face just kind of melts.
I peeked at Julian and he was looking at me. Yeah, he knew what he was saying.
This story isn’t just about August, either. Auggie’s friends and family all have roles to play in the story, and each viewpoint has a different voice to match it. Wonder could be used as a textbook for great characterisation – it crafts a fantastic villain in school bully Julian while August’s friends and family are all flawed but loveable.
If you’re into children’s or young adult fiction, do yourself a favour and pick up “Wonder”. It’s a fresh, brave concept in the children’s writing world — and a great story to boot.
A copy of this book was provided for review by Random House.