August (Auggie) Pullman was born with an extremely deformed face. “I won’t describe what I look like,” he says on the first page of Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” After years of surgeries and homeschooling, we meet Auggie as he is about to go to school for the first time as a fifth grader at Beecher Prep. Wonder is the story of Auggie’s year-long effort to deal with his classmates’ prejudices, fears, discrimination, and cruelty. Thanks to Palacio’s terrific writing and recognizably real characters, Wonder is not a downer. To the contrary – Wonder is a beautiful book.
Wonder is told from multiple points of view, which is a brilliant way to allow the reader to empathize with many different reactions to Auggie’s deformity. We experience Auggie’s journey through the eyes of his sister, his sister’s boyfriend, his friend Jack, and several other classmates. As each of these characters comes to terms with their own fears and insecurities through their friendship and contact with Auggie, the reader does too.
Palacio writes impeccable ten-year-old dialogue, and that makes the story fresh and relevant (“I know, right?”). It helps that Wonder is also sprinkled with lyrics from Christina Aguilera, lines from Hamlet, snippets from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, current movie references, and quotes from J.M. Barrie, making it accessible to almost any middle-schooler. Wonder runs directly counter to what most kids are picking up from the media these days – instead of intolerance and hatred, Palacio shows us again and again, from many perspectives and in many voices, how kindness can save the day. As the parent of two middle school aged kids, I’ll be sure to make Wonder required reading in my house.