When I told the children’s librarian at my library that I’d just read the newest Newberry-winner, The One & Only Ivan, and wasn’t that impressed, she concurred and said she’d been routing for a book called Wonder. This stirred a vague, robin’s egg blue memory in me, and sure enough, I found this book in my Amazon wishlist/reading list, having been added after reading its review several months ago.
Written by first-time novelist, R. J. Palacio, Wonder tells the story of a disfigured boy named August, who is starting 5th grade with the “normal” kids for the first time, rather than being home schooled. August was born with a rare disease that renders his face severely deformed, so that it looks something like Sloth from The Goonies:
Obviously, this transition will not be easy. Palacio’s narrative unfolds through six different sets of eyes: August’s, two of August’s friends, his older sister’s, and two of his friends’. This lets us get not only August’s point of view, but it allows us to see how being associated with the town freak impacts those close to him.
All of this sounds like heavy stuff—and it is—but August’s voice keep things light via his intelligence and sense of humor. It is reminiscent of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in its tone and basic premise, but it will appeal to a younger audience. What I liked about this book is how quickly it made me care about the characters, which is something I missed in The One & Only Ivan. August is a Star Wars geek who loves Halloween because it’s the one day of the year he can blend in with the crowd. His sister is fiercely protective of him, and his friends prove that not all middle schoolers are mean-spirited, pre-adolescents—though many are. I read this book in two sittings because there was nothing I’d rather do than see if August would make it in the “real” world.
Wonder is ultimately a story of friendship and growing up with an incredibly interesting and engaging protagonist. It ends a little too neatly, a little too Hallmark, but I didn’t care much about that. What’s wrong with a book that kids can read and take away that it can be good to go against the crowd it that’s what you believe is right? That being a good friend or sibling matters? That people are capable of change? All this shines through without seeming like a PSA and not without a great deal of struggle by all the characters you meet in its pages. It is definitely one to recommend for your more serious readers or those who like realistic fiction.