Book Review: Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Wonder, a modern classic in the young adult genre written by R. J. Palacio, is a story about a disfigured middle-schooler from the perspective of six (seven if you have the special edition) different characters. Touching on the concepts of bullying, friendship, and individuality, the book is obviously targeted towards preteens that deal with these topics on a day to day basis. I got this book for free at a reading festival, so I felt as if I had to read it.
August Pullman, who has been home-schooled his entire life due to mandibulofacial dysostosis (a rare facial deformity), has just entered the fifth grade at a private school called Beecher Prep. August, nicknamed Auggie, faces common fears that every kid goes through when they hit middle school, from making friends to fitting in. However, due to his facial disfigurement, he goes up against bullies and his fears of fitting in set the stage for a strange mix of social anxiety and courage.
With support from his rather charismatic and typical family unit — including his semi-frantic mother, entertaining father, and freshman sister Via — Auggie finds himself in your run-of-the-mill, cliché, pitch-perfect scenario where his family is always there for him. In a real life situation, there is almost sure to be more stress and tension between the child and the rest of the family within this sort of medical environment.
However, it seems that these characters have “come to terms” with Auggie’s disfigurement and the problems that rise from it.
It seems as if all the stress that should exist between Auggie and the rest of his family has been pushed upon his older sister Via, who begins distancing herself from her old life while simultaneously somehow understanding the situation. They also have a dog, which adds to the overall unrealistic portrayal of an average nuclear family living in an upper middle class society.
The majority of the story follows Auggie and his new friends at school, including biracial Summer Dawson and pseudo-popular Jack Will, who both undergo some torment from being Auggie’s friends.
Summer befriends Auggie on the first day of school, something that is uncommon in a middle school world, but what she describes as “not a biggie”. Jack, on the other hand, had a rocky beginning with Auggie, but they soon become close friends. Together they get through day to day life as middle school students, but enter a “war” with the most popular kid at their school, Julian. The concept that is shown here is individuality trumps popularity, which is blatantly not true in a middle school in America.
Overall, the idea of this book is to promote a sense of individuality and to inspire kids in this age group to respect one another for their differences no matter what. A major theme here is bullying and the consequences that come from it, which is a very important message to the target audience of this book.
It feels like an old Disney Channel Original Movie has gotten a modern spin in book form, complete with relevant background characters, but overused plot-lines. A great read for a younger audience, but a rather hypocritical read for anyone who dives deeper into the themes presented.
Stereotypes aside, however, it is a WONDER-ful book for kids aged 8 to 13.