“Wonder” by R.J. Palacios is that unusual kind of book that begs to be read twice and even three times. Although the book is about a fifth grade boy, the book is a commentary on human nature and how we treat those who are different.
The main character, Auggie, is very different. Born with severe facial deformities, he has been home schooled by his mother. Fifth grade is the beginning of middle school, and it’s time for Auggie to try to make friends and venture out into the real world.
Just one of the many things that the author gets right is the fact that often, parents end up on different sides of an issue. And in ‘Wonder,’ no sooner does one parent change sides than the other parent does also. Frustrating, but very true-to-life.
The characters in ‘Wonder’ are also very true-to-life: the school suck-up who makes all the teachers and administrators think he (or she) is wonderfully kind and generous, but who really is a miserable excuse for a human being — enjoying the misery of others.
There is also the very painful, but very real, situation where Auggie’s friend Jack, trying to just fit in with his old friends for a bit, says things that are incredibly hurtful to Auggie when he overhears them.
There is also the great character of Summer, a girl who defies stereotypes and befriends Auggie on his first day at school for reasons all her own.
What the book captures perfectly is the scariness of starting at a new school with new people. What the book also captures perfectly is that feeling multiplied when the person entering the new environment is someone with a deformity so severe it’s painful to even look at him. And that’s how severe Auggie’s deformity is.
But at the end, the book is a commentary on how the kindness of a few can change the perception of many. The book also points out the interesting fact that while someone may be strange to, weird to, and ostracized by one group of people, no one else better pick on him; he’s “their” own strange guy, and they’ll fight to protect him.
The story is told in first person narrative, and at first, that first person is Auggie. But others share their stories as well. Auggie’s sister, Via, has her say; her boyfriend does, too. So do Auggie’s friends Jack and Summer. Even Via’s former best friend, Miranda, has a say because she has been as close to Auggie as anyone.
Auggie starts the story and he finishes the story. And there’s a world of learning, of hurt, of pride, and of friendship that goes on in between. A world of it.
This book is an excellent choice for middle school readers or for a read-aloud in fifth grade and up. There are serious and important issues raised in the book that would make for great classroom discussions about caring and bullying. Additionally, the character changes that many of the characters in the book experience is another reason that this book will be treasured by English teachers for a long time.
Definitely visit the author’s website, where there is a really beautifully done trailer for the book and lots of information about the book.
Please note: This book was reviewed from the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, for review purposes.