I miss my mother/daughter book club. It quietly dispersed when our then sixth grade daughters got busy with activities. Now that the girls are entering eighth grade — the second year of middle school in our town — I wish our group could meet one more time to talk about a book I absolutely love – Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.
This book should be required reading for kids entering middle school. Its characters and situations are realistic. But the book is ideal for anyone, really, because it invites the reader to question how he or she would react to the main character, August “Auggie” Pullman and the various scenarios he finds himself in. Auggie was born with severe abnormalities to his face, so people are generally taken aback when they see him for the first time.
Auggie’s mom has home-schooled him since he was born since he has needed numerous surgeries to address his medical concerns. But she believes he is ready for more of an academic challenge and he is accepted into Beecher Prep School. Mrs. Pullman believes the timing is ideal, since fifth graders from all over will be starting there for the first time and Auggie won’t be the only nervous kid. Auggie is very perceptive and he gives the reader a detailed analysis of the ways people react to him. Auggie dreads the idea of going to school and leaving his comfort zone provided at home. It’s clear to the reader this is a highly intelligent kid who wants more than anything for others to look past his physical differences and see him for who he really is.
R.J. Palacio does a superb job of creating complex, believable characters. Kids can be cruel – in this case, even one of the “role model” students the administrator chooses to help introduce Auggie Pullman to his new school. But most kids, even those who feel the tug of peer pressure to hang with and act like the cool kids, feel compassion. What they lack is the courage and ability to express it.
Wonder is easy to read. It is divided into sections, each of which is told in the point of view of a main character. Auggie, his sister Via, and a handful of his Beecher Prep peers are the storytellers, giving us an honest look at life in Auggie’s world from their perspective.
Auggie’s pretty sister Via, for example, shares with us that her brother has been the center of her parents’ universe since he was born. She “gets it” that he needs extra attention and protection. She loves him so much, too. Yet she’s secretly thrilled that at her new school she won’t immediately be known as the girl whose brother has a deformed face. Via faces her own, typical adolescent issues but she stays strong. I have a feeling it is Mr. and Mrs. Pullman’s unconditional love and encouragement that guides their two children to face adversity so graciously.
At times, the reader’s heart will break, but at times it will soar. Kids will experience this, as will parents. This is good. We want our kids to feel compassion. We want our kids to do the right thing even when it’s not the popular thing to do.
It’s common knowledge that the middle school years are all about kids forming friendships and that sometimes kids choose friends for the wrong reasons. In the few short middle school years, looking and talking a certain way is, for most kids, more appealing than showing their true selves, including flaws and insecurities. Yet they all have flaws and, like Auggie, they all desperately want to feel loved and accepted by others. If they could learn to appreciate each other despite their physical differences, imagine the possibilities…..
Wonder could open up much-needed discussions about acceptance and tolerance. The winners in this story are the students who learned to look past Auggie’s physical differences. They are the students who see the Auggie who is a good friend, a hard worker, and a funny kid. I recommend this book to anyone who feels hopeful that some day soon bullying will be one of the few, truly unacceptable flaws.