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Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

By R.J. Palacio

Knopf (Random House)

ISBN: 9780375869020
Grades 4-7
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It’s a beautiful thing, when a book truly grabs you. It doesn’t happen all that often, and it’s impossible to know when it’s coming. Even with all the advance warning I had about Wonder – it is one of the most critically lauded books of 2012, after all – it still happened. Wonder is a stunner of a book that sacrifices nothing in terms of accessibility. Emotionally rich yet engaging to the core, Wonder will go down as one of the finest books of the year.

August Pullman was the recipient of a rare medical double blow. Two genetic disorders combined to leave him with severe facial abnormalities. Through 27 surgeries, Auggie’s difficult life was made more comfortable through supportive parents and a vigilantly protective sister. Home-schooled his whole life due to medical reasons, the time has come to try school. Beginning 5th grade for any kid can be rough, but for Auggie, the implications carry much more weight. It is a challenging, but ultimately successful year.

If the subject matter alone wasn’t tricky enough, the element of shifting perspectives adds another level of difficulty. Each section of the book is told through the eyes of a different character. Some major – August, his sister Olivia (“Via”) – and others more minor. I think it was an interesting and successful choice that no adult perspectives appear. This is a story told by kids, to kids.

The themes of judgment, compassion, true friendship and courage are both compelling and big. It would be easy for this sort of book to fall back on clichés or cheap emotional ploys, but at every turn it goes a more subtle (and to credit Palacio) skillful route. The shifting perspective helps this, as readers not only see the actions of characters, but the often complicated motivations behind them. We end up with an amazingly full picture of August and how his appearance has affected everyone in his life. Time after time, characters are carefully drawn – multifaceted and authentic.

The character of August is a feat of storytelling that’s difficult to understate. He’s real. Palacio inhabits Auggie’s brain and gives the reader a window into how he goes through the world – a wholly different experience than that of most kids. I was struck by Auggie’s matter-of-fact, overall hopeful view of the world. He’s a realist, but a positive one. Readers will root for him not simply out of sympathy for his differences, but also for the ways he is similar to them.

Wonder is a book that shows the worst in people, but most importantly, the best. This is a book to share. A book that will be remembered. Here’s hoping everyone gets a chance to read it.

Review copy from publisher

Watch the Wonder book trailer:

Thanks to Watch. Connect. Read. for the link

Also reviewed by A Fuse #8 Production, Waking Brain Cells, Book-a-Day Almanac, Becky’s Book Reviews, For Those About to Mock, Sharpread, Welcome to My Tweendom, Abby (the) Librarian.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Great review of an important book. In an age when ‘appearance’ seems paramount August has an honest voice that will resonate with me for a long time. I also enjoyed the structure of this book allowing the reader to think about situations from different viewpoints. Many of us carry the burden of damage from the reaction of others to our appearance – even without the huge diffences endured by August. That is why I will put this book into the hands of adults and children alike.

  2. Aaron an ordinary 7th Grader says

    Loved the book, I just wish i could be apart of this guys life he sounds like the person id like to be one of my actual friends. Me playing football i guess you can say its hard for me not to have freinds but reading this book it gave me a look inside some ones life and id recommend this book to anyone Young or old because this will tell you a thing or two about the world we live in and we need to change and teach are children how to change too so a kid like Auggie’s life wont be so hard!

  3. the most amazing, moving book i have ever read.everyone should read it i think it will change the way people think about people with facial abnormalities they aren’t disabled they just suffered from, among other things, bad luck. they are just like us and we should treat them just the same if not better.

  4. Its an amazing book, quite sad in some places but has a happy ending.