Saturday, 25 May 2013

Wonder



Author: R.J Palacio
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcopy
Source: Library
Pages: 315
Publisher: Knopf
First Published: February 14, 2012
First Line: "I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid."

Book DescriptionAugust (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?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.


My Thoughts:  Often times when a book is so critically acclaimed I'm a little hesitant to pick it up because more often than not the book just doesn't live up to the hype created around it.  Yes, I've become a little cynical in my reading. 

This is not the case with Wonder.  Not by a long shot. 

In fact two words that I initially wrote down after reading the first few chapters of this book were: 'touching and emotional'.  It's because of the emotion and message behind this book that I'm so excited to share it with you.

First of all, I'm shocked and more than a little impressed that this book was written by a first time author.  I think that a huge part of the success of this book is that Palacio has given Auggie (and the five other people who provide the narration) truly authentic and believable voices. 

Auggie is an inspiring, funny and strong main character who will definitely stay with me for a long time.  Palacio has created a sympathetic main character in Auggie who is a normal Star Wars loving boy with an extraordinary face who you can't help but root for.  He's got a great support system at home which has instilled a strong sense of self and he uses his humour to deal with other people's issues with his face.  He is exceptional in that he feels normal even though other people have more of an issue with his face. 

“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary, I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside.
But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go. If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all. I would wish I could walk down the street without people seeing me and then doing that look-away thing.
Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.”

This book could very easily do a tailspin into a very woeful read about bullying.  Sure it has it's emotional moments but it doesn't have a generally sad feel to it.  It's actually a very uplifting read and has a much more simplistic and innocent approach to it that I wasn't expecting.  If you're looking for a gritty account of what life is like living with a severe facial deformity then this won't be the book for you. 

While there is a strong moral message in the book it never felt like Palacio was pontificating or shoving the moral down the reader's throat.  It's a simple lesson: be kinder than you have to.  I would hope that we all realize that we should be nice to everyone (even if we don't do it enough) but this book clearly shows the reader that the negative effects of 'looking away' or pretending we don't notice someone with a noticeable deformity is just as damaging as saying a mean statement. It was an emotional read at times (I even shed a tear or two!) but never had a saccharine or overdone feel to it.

It's because of the moral message that I think that this book should be read by middle school kids. I honestly think everyone should read it but kids in middle school would get the most out of it because I think it accurately portrays the effects of bullying, of ignoring someone based on their looks and shows how little it takes to just be a friend and uplift someone. To do what is right, not necessarily what is the easiest, or what others think you should do.  Those are some pretty big lessons that I think ALL of us need to learn or get a refresher course on.

Overall I truly loved this book.  I was fully emersed in Auggie's world from the beginning to the end and found it to be a very touching read.  The story is told by these six characters with the use of short chapters that really helped to keep the pace moving. But what really stood out with me is the ease and success that Palacio had using various points of view -- Auggie and FIVE others -- to tell the story.  This could have been a literary train wreck with the number of POVs but it was done extremely well giving the reader insight into those around Auggie and how he and they experienced things differently. 

I especially loved his sister, Via's, point of view and her conflicting feelings towards her brother and all of the attention he gets from their parents. She adores her brother but the effects of his facial deformity, his numerous surgeries and how others react to him greatly influences her life.  Palacio also shows how other people in Auggie's life, namely Jack and Summer, deal with other insensitive and downright cruel people who judge them for hanging out with Auggie.

I did have a couple of small criticisms about the book. One thing that did strike me as not quite right were the language and issues that these Grade 5 kids had to deal with. As a mom to kids in Grade 4, 6 and 8 I'd like to think that I have a handle on the voice and development of tweens. Based on that experience with my Small Humans I think that the social issues that were dealt with in the book are more in middle school (Grades 6-8) than in an elementary school setting. I don't think that Grade 5 students are nearly as developmentally advanced as Jack, Auggie, Summer etc were portrayed in the book. I think having the kids be in Grade 7 would have been a more realistic age where they would have experienced the peer and social pressures dealt with in this book.

My other issue with the book is that perhaps because it had a lighter feel to it the ending was also more uplifting and a little too tidy for my liking. The 'bad guy' got his comeuppance and the good guys all rode off into the sunset. These are small beefs about the book (wee 'moos', if you like) but they were noticeable and may bother some readers who were hoping for an edgy ending.

Overall, I loved this book and found Wonder to be truly wonderful.  I adore the moral of the book that encourages people 'to be kinder than necessary' and that people have not only 'the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness'.  Hopefully, after reading this book people will choose to be more respectful and kinder to others even when it's not convenient for them or when it makes them feel uncomfortable. To give others dignity.  Imagine the kind of world we'd have if we all did that.


“Kinder than is necessary. Because it's not enough to be kind.
One should be kinder than needed.”


Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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