Fiction – Kindle edition; RHCP Digital; 88 pages; 2014.
About 18 months ago I did something I don’t normally do: I read a children’s book — R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. It was such a powerful story, with a universal message, that I banged on about it for months afterwards (to anyone who would listen), bought copies for friends and family, and added it to my top 10 reads for 2013.
And then, some time last year, I discovered that the author had written an additional chapter for the book, which could be bought separately in ebook format. About five seconds later I had The Julian Chapter downloaded on to my Kindle… the wonder (no wordplay intended) of modern technology.
The school bully
The original book chronicles 10-year-old August “Auggie” Pullman’s efforts to fit in and become accepted by his peers at the first mainstream school he’s ever attended. Up until now, Auggie has been home educated because he was born with a serious facial deformity requiring 27 different operations. At Beecher Prep, his fortunes are mixed and one particular student — Julian — bullies him because of the way he looks.
While almost everyone in Wonder — including Auggie’s parents and siblings, fellow students and even his teacher — gets their turn to narrate a chapter, one voice is missing: the reader never gets to hear Julian’s side of the story. Hence, this new additional chapter, published last year.
What emerges is a sometimes surprising, occasionally infuriating and always compelling narrative told in a distinctive young boy’s voice:
I know it can’t be easy for him to look in the mirror every day, or walk down the street. But that’s not my problem. My problem is that everything’s different since he’s been coming to my school. The kids are different. I’m different. And it sucks big-time.
The author does a lovely and considered job of ensuring that Julian is not simply an evil child intent on wreaking havoc. She makes him rather a complicated 11-year-old who is wrestling with issues of his own — anxiety that leads to “night terrors”. And while Julian’s bad behaviour is never excused, there’s enough insight into his character and his inner-most feelings to explain some of his attitudes and how they came about. (His parents, it would seem, have quite a lot to answer for.)
His relationship with his French grandmother is touchingly drawn, especially when he stays with her, makes his “confession” and learns the concept of remorse.
Overall, the story is heartwarming — and redemptive.
The Julian Chapter is written very much in the same vein as Wonder — it’s quick-paced and easy-to-read. It’s also moralistic in an overly prescriptive, hit-you-on-the-head kind of way, but even so, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of universal truths, like this one from Julian’s teacher:
“You know,” he said, “one of the things you learn when you get old like me is that sometimes a new situation will come along, and you’ll have no idea what to do. There’s no rule book that tells you how to act in every given situation in life, you know? So what I always say is that it’s always better to err on the side of kindness. That’s the secret. If you don’t know what to do, just be kind.”
Since publication of The Julian Chapter, the author has written another chapter called Pluto. This one looks at Auggie’s story through the eyes of his best and oldest friend, Christopher. I hope to read and review it soonish…