Author: R.J. Palacio
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 320 pages
Ages: 8 – 12
Wonder by R.J. Palacio is the story of an extraordinary and resilient kid named August Pullman, who was born with extreme facial deformities. Auggie is 10 years old and has never gone to school. He has been homeschooled because of all the surgeries he has had since he was born. Isabel Pullman, his mother, thinks it is time for him to attend school. Nate Pullman, his father, is not sure sending him to school is a good idea, but he ultimately agrees with his wife.
Auggie is set to attend fifth grade at Beecher Prep. He and his mother go to a meeting with Mr. Tushman, the Middle School Director. Mr. Tushman asks three kids – Jack Will, Charlotte, and Julian – to give him a school's tour. According to the Middle School Director, he chose these three kids because they are among the nicest kids in his grade. Julian, however, shows signs of not being that nice during the tour. He is one of those kids that acts nicely in front of adults and misbehaves behind them.
Although resistant to the idea of going to school at first, Auggie decides he is going to attend Beecher Prep after all. The story focuses on how the school's children and their parents react to Auggie's facial deformities. August goes through some unpleasing and negative experiences at school, but stays resilient in the face of adversity.
Despite being superficially different from other kids, August is a normal kid. He is smart, funny, and a good son, brother, and friend. He likes Star Wars and his favorite holiday is Halloween. He has an amazing and loving family. He also makes some wonderful friends throughout his first year at school.
This book is mainly about showing kindness to one another and placing oneself in the shoes of another person. It questions our values and priorities. What would you do if you encountered someone like August? How would you treat them? Would you be kind? How much value do you place on the superficial?
Friendship is another significant theme throughout the story. The real meaning of friendship is put to the test. Would you defend a friend when the rest of the group bullies them? Would you stand your ground or follow the crowd?
Comments (*Spoilers* from here on.)
I was impressed with the subject matter of this book because not often one finds a book in which the main character has extreme deformities or disabilities. In Auggie's case, he has severe facial deformities, and people usually stare at him or react with horror. However, he is so strong and resilient that he has gotten used to it.
Auggie's attitude reminds me of the amazing Malala, whose face suffered injuries after being shot by the Taliban. Malala's mother would tell her that people were staring at her. Malala would respond saying that it doesn’t matter because she stares back.
At the beginning of the story, Auggie is not quite there yet and keeps looking to the floor, but at the end of the book he definitely comes out more strong than before. His resiliency increases every time something bad happens to him. This attitude is admirable, and we can learn something from him.
Julian and his mother, Melissa, represent the superficial people of this world. Julian is popular, handsome, and comes from a wealthy family. Nevertheless, appearances can be deceiving. He behaves nicely in front of adults, but behind them he turns into a naughty boy. He is two-faced, meaning he is not a genuine person. He makes Auggie suffer throughout the year.
Of all the things that he did, the one that I found the cruelest and nastiest was his disguised comment about Darth Sidious. That was just horrible because he was pretending to be nice in front of the teacher and classmates, but sending a nasty message in reality.
Julian's mother is the worst. One can assume Julian learned his behavior from her. She photshops Auggie from the class' album. Say what?! What kind of human being does something like that? She doesn’t even bother to RSVP to Auggie's birthday. She sends an email to Mr. Tushman telling him making the kids befriend Auggie was "too much pressure." Not only that, she dares to throw a party during the holidays in which she and her son tell everyone Jack Will punched Julian because he could not deal with the pressure of being Auggie's friend.
Julian and his mother are unable to show kindness to Auggie. Unfortunately, this type of people are always present in our lives. Like Auggie, we have to learn how to deal with them.
One can observe the theme of peer pressure in the friendship between Jack Will and Auggie. Jack Will is one of the three kids Mr. Tushman chose to give Auggie the school's tour. At the beginning, it seems as if they are going to be good friends because Jack Will defends Auggie from Julian.
Sadly, Jack Will succumbs to peer pressure from Julian and his friends, who mock him for being Auggie's friend. I was in tears when Auggie, dressed as the Bleeding Scream, heard Jack Will saying he would kill himself if he looked like that. Of course, Auggie distances from Jack Will. This is the point when their friendship is put to the test.
Peer pressure is also seen in the way the majority of the school's children behave toward Auggie, even playing that they might catch the plague if they touch him. Children in middle school and high school often prefer to follow the crowd because they want to belong. I think the author presented this reality very well. These are difficult years in children's lives.
Summer is the personification of friendship. Although she started being friends with Auggie because she felt sorry for him, the important thing is that she dared to sit with him despite what anybody thought. She decided to get to know him and discovered he was a really nice, smart, and funny kid. She remained his friend for the right reasons too. She felt she could be herself around him.
Summer lost her dad to in the war. I was so glad the author chose this event as Summer's backstory because usually people who know about suffering are the ones who can show more empathy and kindness toward others.
As stated above, Jack Will's friendship with Auggie is put to the test. However, Jack Will thinks things through and sees Julian for what he really is. He ends up standing his ground and defending Auggie from Julian.
The theme of family is important in this book too. Auggie has a beautiful family. They go the extra mile for him. His parents and his sister, Via, adore him. They truly care for him in a way not many parents, sisters, and brothers care. Via's boyfriend, Justin, observes this. Auggie might have not gotten on the right side of genetics, but he was blessed with an amazing family.
Justin says my favorite lines of the book:
"no, no, it's not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely, and the universe doesn't. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can't see. like with parents who adore you blindly. and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you…"
We are human beings; therefore, we all make mistakes. What is important is to acknowledge them and rectify our actions. Characters rectify their actions throughout the story.
Via loves his brother, but she also has resentment because of all the attention he has received from their mother. She also doesn’t want people in her new school to know about Auggie because she doesn’t want to be known just for being the sister of someone with facial deformities. For these reasons, she doesn’t want Auggie to attend her school's play. She, however, feels guilty about these feelings. At the end, she changes her mind and acts lovingly as always. Auggie goes to watch her school's play. Via gets to play the main character and she gets a standing ovation.
Jack Will rectifies his behavior when he stands up to Julian. Even Miles and Henry rectify their behavior when they help Jack Will defend Auggie from the bullies at the nature retreat. The children of the school overall rectify their behavior toward Auggie after they learn what happened at the nature retreat.
Characters rectifying their behavior is a sign of hope. It shows that we make mistakes, but also can think about our actions and change them. We can choose to be kind.
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