Fiction – Kindle edition; Bodley Head; 320 pages; 2012.
R.J. Palacio’s Wonder is one of those rare “crossover” books with universal appeal. It is aimed at children and a young adult audience, but it is such a gorgeous story — one that genuinely warms the heart and brings tears to the eyes — that it has quickly rocketed to the top of my favourite reads of the year.
Adjusting to school life
Wonder tells the tale of 10-year-old August “Auggie” Pullman, who was born with a serious facial deformity. He has been home-educated, but now his parents think it is time he attended a mainstream school. The book chronicles his efforts to fit in and become accepted by his peers at Beecher Prep.
My name is August. I won’t describe to you what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
When the book opens, Auggie narrates his experiences in a voice that is engaging, humble and honest. He conveys the fear of meeting new people and seeing their reactions to his face. He knows why people avoid or shun him, and while it hurts, he accepts it as a normal part of his existence. Despite the fact he’s had 27 operations, “eats like a tortoise” and has cheeks that “look punched in”, there is nary a trace of self pity.
Other characters in the novel — including Auggie’s older sister Via and his friends Will and Summer — take it in turns to narrate the story, so that you get to see Auggie from a range of different perspectives.
A story with a message
Despite Wonder being aimed at a far younger audience than me, I absolutely adored this book. While I did feel emotionally manipulated on occasion (I cried several times and the ending just killed me), I truly didn’t mind. That’s because I think the message behind the story — that you should not judge people on looks alone and that we should all be kind to one another — is an important and universal one. As an adult, it was nice to be reminded of that.
Yes, the book has some “Americanisms” and yes, I sometimes felt characters adopted a patronising tone with Auggie. But as a book to pull the heart strings, make you think about the world in a slightly different way and get you to appreciate your own good health and fortune, I could not think of a better read. I not only fell in love with Auggie’s lovely nature and bright personality, I also fell in love with his charming, supportive family and his generous, open-minded school principal, Mr Tushman.
Of course, the book isn’t all sweetness and light, because it also features some horrible people, including school bully Julian and his shallow mother, who tries to (unbelievably) Photoshop Auggie out of the official class photograph. But without them, the story would lack the tension and the drama that makes it so emotive and readable.
Essentially, this is the kind of book you just want to rush out and tell everyone to read — I’ve already ordered my eight-year-old niece a copy.
If you’re intrigued by the sound of Wonder and wish to find out more, do visit the author’s official website. Note that an adult edition of the book will be published in the UK by Black Swan on 1 August.