Sunday, March 9, 2014

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Published in 2012 by Random House
Realistic Fiction

R.J. Palacio's Wonder is a heartwarming story about a ten-year-old boy named August (a.k.a. Auggie) who was born with a severe facial deformity. He knows he is different and has struggled with this knowledge his entire life. Although the book's tone is serious and at times can be heartbreaking, the humorous elements in the story make it enjoyable. The book begins with August expressing his inner feelings and deepest desires:
I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in the playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go (3).
August goes on to say that if he found a magic lamp and could have just one wish, he would wish that he had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all. He wishes he could walk down the street without people seeing him and then "doing that look-away thing." Then he confesses, "But I'm kind of used to how I look by now. I know how to pretend I don't see the faces people make. We've all gotten pretty good at that sort of thing: me, Mom, Dad, and Via." However, Via, his sister, is not really that good at it. She gets annoyed at people when they stare or act rude and is very protective of her brother. One of the most heartwarming parts of this story is the obvious love that the members of Auggie's family have for one another despite Auggie's disability.

Up until now, Auggie has had so many surgeries that he has been unable to attend school. His mother
has had to home school him, but she finally decides he needs to go to school. She realizes the family cannot shelter and protect Auggie his entire life. Dad disagrees at first, and then he changes his mind, only to have mom change hers. Clearly the parents are concerned about Auggie and are struggling over what is best for him. Finally, they decide he MUST go to school.

From the humorous story of Auggie's birth to this first days in the fifth grade at Beecher Prep, to his relationships with his friends Jack Will, Julian, Charlotte, Summer, Miles, and others, to the challenges he faces in the classroom and in the lunchroom at school, to learning Mr. Browne's precepts for life in English class, to adjusting to doing homework at night, readers are drawn into Auggie's world and the world of upper elementary school-age children.

The book is divided into parts written from Auggie's perspective and the perspective of his sister and
other friends in the story: Part 2 is from Via's perspective, Part 3 is from Summer's perspective, Part 4 is from Jack's perspective, Part 5 is from Justin's perspective, Part 6 is from Auggie's perspective, and Part 7 is from Miranda's perspective. The book is realistic in its portrayal of children from this age group. Middle school can be a tough time for kids to adjust because kids can be very mean to each other at times. Auggie having to deal with Julian's rude comments is an indication of what kids at this age have to deal with, and with Auggie's deformity, the situation is even more serious. However, Auggie rises to the occasion, and each character undergoes a transformation in the story as the school year progresses and life lessons are learned.

The most enjoyable parts of this book for me were the touching things Auggie said and the special insights he would share along the way. For example, in Auggie's English class, the students were required to write about a "PRECEPT" for each month. For the month of October, the precept was "Your Deeds Are Your Monuments." This is how Auggie responded, and his response shows wisdom beyond his age:
This precept means that we should be remembered for the things we do. The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. They things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they've died. They're like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs. Only instead of being made out of stone, they're made out of the memories people have of you. That's why your deeds are like your monuments. Built with memories instead of with stone (65).
In the Appendix of the book, readers can find a complete list of Mr. Browne's precepts for each month of the year. In the end, Auggie adjusts well to school, and his reaction when his name is called and he receives the Henry Ward Beecher Medal reveals what he truly believes: that he is just an ordinary kid:
I wasn't even sure why I was getting this medal, really.
No, that's not true. I knew why.
It's like people you see sometimes, and you can't imagine what it would be like to be that person, whether it's somebody in a wheelchair or somebody who can't talk. Only, I know that I'm that person to other people, maybe to every single person in that whole auditorium.
To me, though, I'm just me. An ordinary kid.
But hey, if they want to give me a medal for being me, that's okay. I'll take it. I didn't destroy a Death Star or anything like that, but I did just get through the fifth grade. And that's not easy, even if you're not me. 
Most people could not relate to the extent of Auggie's disability and what he has had to endure, but everyone can relate to feeling out of place at times, especially in school. This book has a great message for young people: It's what a person is on the inside that counts most.

Meet R.J. Palacio

Source of Images for Wonder

Find This Book At Your Local Library

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