“And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.” – Auggie Pullman
In Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Auggie Pullman was born with a genetic defect that almost killed him. Luckily for Auggie and the people in his life he survived, but his face is forever misshapen. He has had to go through countless surgeries and the gawking stares of people in his town, yet his tenth year on this planet will prove to be his most challenging as he goes from being home schooled to attending the local middle school. This is a difficult experience for any student as cliques form and children battle to be cool. For Auggie, this can be a nightmare. Fortunately the story ends up being one of family, friendship, and bravery, with many positive events occurring to balance out the negatives in Auggie’s life.
I liked this book for the voice that Palacio was able to create for her different characters. What especially helped was the fact that the story is told from multiple perspectives, so the reader gets a sense of what it is like to walk around in Auggie’s shoes, as well as how his condition affects the people around him. Too often books like this only get one side, but it would be naive to think only one perspective is needed.
As I got into the story, it immediately made me think of other novels about children with exceptionalities that made them targets for the ridicule of their peers. In both Firegirl and Larger Than Life Lara, the title characters are viewed by their fellow students as ‘freaks’ and are not welcomed to their schools. Auggie goes through this same experience of standing out for being more than just a new kid. Because of the strong first-person narration that is included in Wonder, the book links even more to Out of My Mind. This is another novel that I felt tied closely to this book because people expect a lot less of the protagonists due to the genetic afflictions they have, when really these are bright young people who deserve praise for being courageous in less than ideal situations.
While reading about Auggie, I wondered about the medical term for what he had until the book eventually mentioned the name: mandibulofacial dystosis, otherwise known as Treacher-Collins syndrome. I had never heard of this before, though I did attend high school with a boy who I believe had this syndrome. I am proud that my high school self did not treat him as Auggie’s peers would have, but I am ashamed to admit I did my fair share of staring and never went out of my way to speak to him.
Wonder makes readers reflect on how they interact with others in life. I think it is important for all children and adults to read this book due to the powerful feeling of empathy that they will gain. On the side of my blog I have posted a badge with ‘Choose Kind’ written on it to help me remember how I need to treat my students as well as my peers. If you would like the same badge, you can click the image and be taken to the author’s website for one of your own.
Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much. – Blaise Pascal