Wonder is the debut novel by R.J. Palacio. I have heard nothing but good things from readers. So far this is the fan favourite of the potential 2013 Newbery awards. Whenever I hear that I have to read the top faves, so I’m starting with this one.
Wonder centers around the life of newbie fifth grader, August Pullman (Auggie to his friends and family). Auggie was born with a genetic disorder that caused an extreme facial defect. As a result his parents have always home schooled him to protect him. Upon leaving fourth grade his mother declares she cannot teach him anymore and sets him up at Beecher Prep, a smaller private school that will be able to cater to his unique circumstance. Auggie is not a special needs kid at all, but his parents worry about how the kids will react to his abnormality. At first Auggie feels welcome, not knowing that the Principal of the school asked a select group of kids to befriend Auggie, to help him make the transition easier. When Auggie learns of this he begins to question his real friends from his enemies.
Auggie’s journey through one year of school is beautiful and heartbreaking. Palacio sensitively weaves an dual environment of acceptance and scorn. Auggie definitely has his bumps along the road, but the joy of this book comes in watching how he handles the bumps, how he grows and who he comes to value as his true friends. The story itself is told in several first person narratives from people in Auggie’s life. Each narrator has something to contribute to how Auggie has impacted them and, conversely, what they have brought into his life as a person. To me this book comes down to one, simple thing – protect one’s own.
It’s not about bullying, yet it is. It’s not about Auggie’s face, but it is. It’s also about school, and dogs, and plays, and Star Wars, and great books, and great music, and life lessons, and personal credos. It’s about all things moral and social, and yet it’s about one special boy being completely unspecial.
It’s a tremendous book. And my pick, thus far, for the 2013 Newbery winner.
5 out of 5 stars.