by R. J. Palacio
Wonder is one of those rare books that makes you want to hug everyone in it so tightly that they’ll have no doubt about how much you love them…and beyond that, it also makes you want to reach out and hug the whole world. It’s an upbeat, humorous, life-affirming story that deserves to be read—and it’s one that may just change its readers, too.
If you remember how terrifying it was to be a kid on a day to day basis, you’ll appreciate August’s story. 10-year-old Auggie is going to school for the first time in his life, and he has to navigate new rules, learn to interact with teachers, and figure out how to make new friends. In addition, he also has a severe facial deformity that stops strangers in their tracks, so all the usual perils of the fifth grade take on even more heightened stakes.
With the matter-of-fact wisdom that warmed Beverly Cleary’s books, this story about growing up is full of heart and humor, and written with a clear-eyed intelligence that never descends into cynicism. Auggie’s smart, funny personality will win over readers who will agonize with him over the complicated web of friendships and family even as they cheer for him as he learns some of life’s big and scary lessons.
It’s okay, I know I’m weird-looking, take a look, I don’t bite. Hey, the truth is, if a wookie started going to school all of a sudden, I’d be curious, I’d probably stare a bit! And if I was walking with Jack or Summer, I’d probably whisper to them: Hey, there’s the wookie. And if the wookie caught me saying that, he’d know I wasn’t trying to be mean. I was just pointing out the fact that he’s a wookie.
Even with a positive attitude and smart, loving parents, however, Auggie’s story is not an easy one to read, and my emotions ran wildly from sadness to hilarity to terrible anger at what happens to him. Not all kids are nice. Some kids behave one way in front of adults and another way in front of kids. Some adults are downright cruel. And just when you think life can’t possibly get any harder or more challenging, sometimes it does.
Although the book is primarily told from Auggie’s perspective, it was a surprise to me when it switched to a few other points of view. With a total of six different voices, I would normally say this is far too many, but in this particular case every person offered an insight into August’s beautiful personality and amazing life in a way that would be impossible to otherwise know. Reading about Auggie’s 27 surgeries, rejoicing at his vibrant inner life, hurting for him when he felt lonely or misunderstood, and seeing his life from various different perspectives, it’s impossible not to be moved by his story. And how can you not love a boy who understands that sometimes his mom might need his precious teddy bear more than he does?
Tears were streaming down my face as I finished this book—and the funny thing is, they were primarily tears of joy. Wonder is written with the kind of sensitivity and insight that I had hoped for when I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and it went the extra mile to be an uplifting story that made me want to embrace life and the people in it, too. I also very much appreciate that this middle grade book is written for its intended age group, not just a book for adults in the guise of a children’s book, even though it’s certainly one that can be enjoyed by readers of any age.
“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie,” she said, looking at me. “But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.”
A story like this comes along just a few times in a lifetime, and I fervently hope that readers will find their way to it. This short book that doesn’t waste a single page in squeezing your emotions so tightly you feel like you can't breathe, but when it’s finally released, you may find that your heart is full of even more empathy, compassion, and love than you thought possible. We expect to be surprised by cruelty, but how wonderful it is to also be surprised by kindness.
Rated 5 out of 5 stars
This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
About the Inspiration Behind the Story
The ice cream incident in this story actually happened, but perhaps not in the way that you might think. Learn about the surprising inspiration behind this story on R.J. Palacio's website. She's definitely an author to watch.