When February’s I Love to Read Month swings in action, I like to do my bit by reading something new and different. After seeing Wonder, R. J. Palacio’s middle grade novel, in bookstores across England, Greece, Italy as well as Canada and the United States, I figured it would be a good choice.
Wonder is the story of August (Auggie) Pullman, a 10-year-old boy living in Manhattan who has a rare craniofacial disorder often equated with Treacher Collins syndrome. Because of his condition and multiple follow-up surgeries, August’s face is disfigured. His hearing also affected, and he suffers other health set-backs. After years of home-schooling, he enters fifth-grade at Beecher Middle School. The novel follows August’s adjustment to his new school, and the impact it has on characters in the story.
The novel is written from first-person perspectives of several key characters, starting with August himself. Later, it switches to his older sister, Via, then later to August’s new friend, Summer and then to other characters as the story evolves. It ends with August’s account of his final few days at school that year.
Initially, I had trouble making the switch to other perspectives. August’s voice is so strong, and his telling so entertaining that when the narration switched to Via on page 37, I didn’t see the change coming. I really didn’t want to leave August either. But Palacio gives each character a unique voice. She starts transitions by going back to key events to show us how they impacted the character currently telling the story. Then, she adds to the plot and moves the story along before switching viewpoints again. With each viewpoint, I understood more about the character’s relationship with August, and also some of the problems and challenges they faced.
the first time i meet olivia’s little brother I have to admit i’m totally taken by surprise. i shouldn’t be, of course. olivia’s told me about his ‘syndrome.’ has even described what he looks like. but she’s also talked about all his surgeries over the years, so i guess i assumed he’d be more normal-looking by now… Justin, from Wonder
The themes of acceptance and friendship ride throughout the novel. Palacio switches perspectives with ease, giving each voice a personality all its own. She uses humour effectively to buffer delicate situations. Young readers will relate to August’s predicament, that of his classmates, and they might even see themselves in the cast of characters.
Palacio gives readers a well-woven story, rich in details and strong characters. By embracing a difficult subject with sensitivity, she gives readers much to discuss and weigh. Wonder is suitable for the 8-14 age group, but there is much here that older teens and even adults will enjoy. This would be a great read-aloud for home or school, and a valuable resource for classrooms.
From an interview with NPR, here’s what R. J. Palacio had to say about an encounter with a girl with a severe facial deformity. The encounter occurred while she was in an ice cream shop with her two sons, and it became the driving force behind Wonder.
I was really angry at myself afterwards for the way I had responded. What I should have done is simply turned to the little girl and started up a conversation and shown my kids that there was nothing to be afraid of. But instead what I ended up doing was leaving the scene so quickly that I missed that opportunity to turn the situation into a great teaching moment for my kids. And that got me thinking a lot about what it must be like to … have to face a world every day that doesn’t know how to face you back.
For the full interview, click here.
For more about R.J. Palacio, click here.
For other posts in this Raising Readers Series, check out
- How Superman Taught Me Story Structure
- This Mummy Changed Me: National Geographic
- My Intro to Sarcasm & Parody: MAD Magazine
- A Lesson in Flexing Language: A Tale of Two Cities