Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Middle school is difficult enough for most kids, but for August Pullman, it's especially hard.  August has never been to regular school before, and now for some reason, his mother thinks 5th grade is the perfect time for him to start.  "The universe has not been kind to August", you see.  At 10 years of age he has had twenty seven surgeries to correct a cleft palate and other facial abnormalities.

August starts school early, by meeting a few kids and getting a tour of the school.  The kids are nice enough, but August has been around enough to notice the kinds of things that most adults do not; fake smiles, a shifting gaze, a quick look when others think he's not looking.  Jack, Charlotte, and Julian seem nice enough but August can tell they were hand picked and told not to talk about his face.

Surprisingly, things start off pretty well...at least as good as can be expected.  A girl named Summer sits with him at lunch, his teachers seem nice enough, and August does well in school.  Kids are not flocking to him to be his friend, but he has a small group he can talk to.  As Halloween approaches, August is super excited.  It's his favorite day of the year, because everyone wears a mask, and no one has to look away when they see him.  But a last minute costume switch leads him to overhear a conversation that cuts him to the quick.  How will August get through the rest of the year without friends?

But August is not the only one with a story to tell.  August's sister Olivia, her friend Miranda, her boyfriend Justin,  and middle schoolers Jack, Summer, and Julian all have sections in the book told from their points of view; and in my opinion that is what makes Wonder such a success.  August's situation is extraordinary and is bound to affect everyone around him.  Knowing the motivations of these superbly written secondary characters not only makes August's character more well rounded, but enriches the story immensely. 

As with most books with buzz, I went into Wonder cautiously.  I was fearful it might be too precious.  I am happy to say my fears were unfounded.  The voices of the tweens and teens in this book are spot on.  I could easily picture the hallways of Beecher Prep and the students and teachers within.  This is a book that is likely to open some eyes to the idea of compassion, empathy and trying to walk a mile in shoes that aren't one's own.

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