August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances? – Goodreads
My immediate reaction after finishing R.J. Palacio’s Wonder was something like, “What a great book, what a good message!” And this continues to be true. I think there is a lot to appreciate in Wonder: from Auggie’s bravery, to the close knit family he has, to the friendships he makes along the way — these aspects of the book are its strength.
The main character, August “Auggie” Pullman, was born with a severe facial deformity. Up until the point in the story, him at ten years old, he has spent his childhood in and out of surgeries and home schooled by his mom. The start of middle school is right around the corner, though, and his parents suggest that he attend a regular school. Auggie’s immediate reaction? Well, you can imagine that he was not at all pleased by the idea. And who could blame him? He was well aware that his appearance would be a focus and he had previous experiences with kids who weren’t so nice.
Funny, smart, and brave, Auggie was a sweet kid I immediately took a liking to. He navigated through his new school with kids being outright mean, others ignoring his existence, and a few who ended up befriending him. It was easy to step into his shoes here and, like his parents, I worried so much for what he had to endure. Thankfully, though he did experience hurt feelings and heartbreaking situations, he also thrived in his school environment. He enjoyed learning and, being at school, despite the negative, allowed him to feel like any other kid.
Wonder is told primarily through Auggie’s POV, but R.J. Palacio took the story a bit further by allowing us a peek into the mindset of those around him: his sister, Olivia, some of his peers, and, randomly, his sister’s boyfriend and old friend. Truthfully, I felt that only Olivia’s POV added any real depth to the story and her POV was a highlight for me. However, I think R.J. Palacio missed an opportunity by not exploring the thoughts of Auggie’s parents or even that of his tormentor at school.
I initially gave this book a four star rating, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt something was off. I finally realized it was the ending: it was too happy, too convenient. You’re probably thinking, “Steph, are you insane?! Did you want a depressing ending?” No, but for a story like this I would have liked a realistic one. I realize that Auggie is still only a middle schooler at the end of the book, and he has so many more challenges ahead of him that I should be all, “WOOT, GO AUGGIE!”, but R.J. Palacio’s Wonder was wrapped up too neatly with a shiny bow on top. That is not how real life goes. Kids don’t miraculously turn their opinions around, the “bad guy” isn’t suddenly shunned, and people don’t go riding off into the sunset. I’m all for an uplifting story, but I think Wonder overdid it. For a story like this one, dealing with such a sensitive topic, I think it deserved an honest conclusion.
That said, I would still highly recommend Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I think there’s a lot to take away from it and so many individuals could learn a thing or two about empathy and being open minded.
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