Given the number of books I consume (I have read or listened to 115 books just this year) and my lack lack of intentionality in making book selections, I do not expect every book that crosses my path to be great. Some of them are not even very good. But occasionally I come across a book that meets all of my criteria for a truly outstanding piece of literature. Wonder is one of those books.
As I mentioned in my Reading Wish List post, Wonder has recently been capturing the attention of adults and children alike. This debut novel from R.J. Palacio is currently in its 49th week on the NY Times Best Sellers List, and when I saw it featured at my local library, I immediately grabbed a copy. I couldn’t wait to begin reading this book, and was instantly captivated by the narration of ten-year old August (Auggie) Pullman. Auggie was born with a severe facial deformity, and because he has undergone numerous surgeries throughout his life, he has never had the chance to attend school. Now Auggie is starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep middle school; being the new kid in school is never easy, but it proves to be particularly tough for Auggie, whose unique face makes him an outcast among his peers. Auggie is painfully aware that the other kids view him as a freak, but he faces these seemingly insurmountable social challenges with bravery, humor, and grace.
Auggie’s conversational narration is brilliant, and both his experiences and his reactions to them ring true, but my favorite parts of the book are those narrated by other kids in Auggie’s life. These alternate perspectives add depth to Auggie’s story and highlight the issues faced by “normal” kids in Auggie’s sphere: issues that, while less spectacular than Auggie’s challenges, are equally painful. Particularly poignant is the narration of Auggie’s teenage sister, Via, who struggles to reconcile her love for her brother with her longing to lead a more ordinary life. Like Auggie, each of these additional characters has a unique and believable voice, and their narrations are beautifully woven together to capture the inspiring story of August Pullman.
Wonder is a powerful book whose poignant themes of kindness and courage deserve to be shared. While its subject matter would seem to lend itself to a story of suffering and heartbreak, Wonder manages to remain positive and uplifting without being preachy or overly sentimental. I wish that this book had existed when I was in middle-school, but even as an adult, I still have a lot to learn about compassion, and Wonder provided an excellent resource in understanding how to respond to those who are different than me. At the end of the book, Auggie’s principal gives a commencement speech in which he encourages his students to “glimmer in their kindness” because “if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you . . . the face of God.” What an inspirational reminder, not just for the students of Beecher Prep, but for all of us.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.