Book Review: Wonder
By Shivani Shah
We teach children to be polite. We teach kids to be well behaved. But do we teach them to be kind? Kindness is a recurring theme in Wonder, the debut story for kids by R.J. Palacio, who wrote it after a personal encounter with a child who had a facial abnormality.
Wonder is the story of August Pullman, a 10-year-old boy who loves Star Wars and his dog, Darth Daisy. He feels like an ordinary kid, but he knows no one else thinks he is. His parents and older sister, Via, find him extraordinary, but kids at the playground run away screaming when they see him. Auggie was born with a craniofacial abnormality so severe that he never describes himself, because “Whatever you’re thinking,” he explains, “it’s probably worse.” After twenty-seven surgeries, he still doesn’t have the kind of face you would describe as ordinary.
Auggie has been homeschooled all his life, but his parents finally decide to enroll him in a school with other kids. Resistant at first, Auggie finally relents, and Wonder describes the highs and lows of his first year at Beecher Prep.
Through the incidents that occur during this first year at middle school, Palacio highlights two very important lessons: kids can be cruel, and a little bit of kindness goes a long way. Auggie is the hero of Wonder in the most literal sense of the word. He’s not just the protagonist, he’s a smart and sweet young boy who thinks of others’ feelings even when they’re not thinking of his. Palacio subtly describes his world through his interactions with others. It’s heartbreaking when Auggie notices a classmate move quickly out of the way “like he was afraid I might accidentally touch him as I passed by him.” Incidents like this are so common in Auggie’s life that they don’t ruffle him anymore, but he notices them all the same. Auggie has a defense mechanism for the things that do bother him: He grows his hair long so that bangs cover his eyes and he can block out things he doesn’t want to see.
While Wonder is Auggie’s story, the point of view occasionally shifts to Via and some of their friends. The book is divided into parts – each part narrated by a different character – and is set mainly in the present, with flashbacks to explain how the characters met Auggie and how he’s influenced their lives. While Palacio creates distinct voices for all six narrators, the book never feels disjointed.
The climax of this story for kids is a tearjerker and leaves you with the proverbial warm and fuzzy feeling. Wonder was written for kids age eight and older and is a beautiful book that every preteen and teenager (and adult, too) should read. It’s the perfect book to discuss with your kids, as it touches on so many life lessons: the importance of being kind, of never judging a person by his or her appearance, of giving second chances, and of being a good friend. Palacio manages to weave these lessons into this story for kids without crossing into self-righteous territory. Beecher Prep’s English teacher Mr. Browne says: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
There is a lot of unpleasantness in the world, but perhaps if we can teach kids to be kind, we can make it a little more comfortable for us all. Reading this story for kids is a good place to start.