Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder--R.J. Palacio
February 2012 by Knopf
315 pages--Goodreads

August (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?

Wonder is a beautiful story.  I stayed up way to late in order to finish it.  I'm really not sure how late I was up.  It is both funny and tear jerking.

Palacio makes excellent use of multiple points of view, highlighting the different experiences of each of the characters.  The multiple POVs make it very clear that there are always more than two sides to every story.  The transitions between POVs is well paced, never so frequent that the different voices become confusing or overwhelming.  POV switches are generally 70 or so pages apart and always at the right place plot-wise.

Side note, I know this book focus on the kids' experiences, but I would have loved a few chapters from Mom or Dad's perspective.  

The characters and their interactions with each other are authentic.  Middle school kids saying stupid things (both the dorky-awkward-dumb stuff and the varying degrees of intentionally hurtful stuff).  Friendships change because people change and life moves on.  I love that every character has the potential for good and bad.  The kids at school are jerks who alienate August because he's different.  But the same kids come to his rescue later on and become his friends.  Jack reacts authentically to August's unignorable differences.  He didn't want to be friends with the freak, then got to know him and became friends, but then wanted to separate himself from August to preserve his reputation.

I especially loved Via and her conflicting feelings about wanting to be there to support her brother and not wanting to always and only be known as August's sister and wanting to get attention from her parents but feeling selfish for doing so because that would take attention away from August.  Via's narrative would pair well with Rules.  

One of the best but most heartbreaking parts of the novel were the little comments from August that prove how much he was hurt by other people's reactions despite being "used" to them.  He notices when people don't look him in the eye or start even just a tiny bit when they first see him.  He's so matter of fact about it because he tries to hide the hurt, even to himself.  

The only problem I had with the novel was the ending.  I watched this TED talk the same day I read the book, and that definitely colored my reading of the novel.  (Spoilers ahead.  Ye be warned).  I wanted August's victory to be complete in just becoming an accepted and normal part of the community.  Instead, he became the exact sort of inspiration porn Stella Young talks about (seriously, go watch the TED talk).  I can see both sides of the issue.  We don't want to objectify or pedestalize people, but we also should be inspired by the people around us.  Wonder wasn't written in a vacuum.  I'm curious how I would feel about the ending in a reread of the book, and I'd love to have a class discussion tying the book and TED talk together.

Wonder is a great middle grade story, but it very enjoyable for older readers too.  It has surprising depth.  I feel like Wonder is a story that would grow well with rereading, like all the best books.  

P.S. for my own teachery notes--The book has really short chapters (generally 1-3 pages), making super accessible for even reluctant readers.

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