Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio
By R.J. Palacio
Knopf (Random House)
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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