I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
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?
August Pullman is a typical ten-year-old boy. He likes sports, video games, and Star Wars. He is an intelligent kid. Like some kids these days, Auggie has been home-schooled by his mother, but his school year, Mom thinks it is time for Auggie to go to a real school. Dad does not agree saying sending Auggie to school would be like (sending) a lamb to the slaughter.
Mom and Auggie go to Beecher Prep to meet the principal, Mr. Tushman. Auggie ends up on a school tour with three kids that would be in his fifth grade class, should he attend. Julian, Jack Will, and Charlotte are nice and show Auggie most everything including the science lab, gymnasium, and cafeteria. Beecher Prep is an exclusive and demanding school. Kids take entrance exams just to be a student there. Unknown to Aggie, he has already passed the tests. .
Fast forward a few months, Auggie is attending Beecher Prep and in Ms. Petosa’s homeroom. Lucky for him, Auggie sits next to Jack Will in nearly every class. They get along great . . . until Halloween. However, Auggie did make a true friend in Summer, his lunch table mate. Fifth grade has its ups and downs. Most kids will not touch him, acting as if he has the plague or some other awful contagion. Aggie makes it through fifth grade and returns for sixth grade. This year will be the most trying year of his young life.
I really, absolutely, loved this story. Wonder is the debut novel from R.J. Palacio and she entered the children’s lit world with guns a blazing. The characters are well developed and have distinctive voices. Nearly everyone has changed in some way by the end of the book, including the reader. She must have spent her days and nights around ten-year-old kids because the dialogue is spot-on. Good kid, bad kid, parent, teacher, or “extras,” Ms. Palacio has the correct, believable voice.
When I first saw the cover, I wanted to read this book. The pale blue background of a young kid with one eye had a way of drawing me to it. After reading the book, I think the cover is wrong for the book. Auggie has severe facial abnormalities including a cleft palate, eyes much to low on his head, and ears that are nearly non-existent. If the cover is suppose to be of Auggie, the designer missed it, big time.
Auggie is 10 when the book opens, having survived more surgeries, treatments, and therapies than most of us will ever experience, and is about to go to school for the first time. I remember middle school to be a game of who’s popular and who isn’t, only notched down a degree from high school. Add parents that are often as bad as, if not worse than, the kids and middle school becomes a place not for the timid . . . or the new, and definitely not for the noticeably different and possibly scary.
I think Auggie represents anyone who is different. He is the child fighting cancer that lost his hair, the kid in a wheelchair, or the one attending special ed. He is the fat kid, the nerd, the shy kid, and the kid without friends. Auggie represents all of us at some time or another. We all have or had a blemish or two, felt excluded, talked about, maybe even feared. August Pullman endures all of those, at the same time, from kids at a cruel stage in life, when being accepted and part of the group is extremely important. I think Ms. Palacio captured this realistically without being maudlin
At 320 pages, Wonder is still within the reach of middle grade capabilities. The chapters are short, easy to read, and the words simply flow making the turning of pages a pleasure, not a chore. The point of view does change every now and then. We get to read about Via, Auggie’s sister. She tells us what it’s like having a brother who rightly demands all of mom and dad’s attention. Jack Will, who unknowing crushes Auggie with his sharply barbed words, tells us the friend side. Mostly though, it is Auggie we hear from and his trials being “that kid.”
Wonder is easy to read, difficult to put down, funny, and sad. If you can read this story without shedding at least one tear, you did not pay attention to what you were reading. Do not let that scare you away. This is not a tearjerker; it is a thought-jerker. I think Wonder should be required reading for every middle grader and teen. Awards will accumulate and by the end of 2012, Wonder will be be one of the top ten middle grade books of this year.
Author: R.J. Palacio Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House) Publication Date: February 1, 2012 Number of Pages: 320 ISBN: 978-375-86902-6