Book Review

Book Review : Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

WonderI won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

Last year it felt like the book I talked about the most was Wonder. Whether I was meeting up with a fellow book blogger, chatting about books online or with youth librarians it was the one book that everyone wanted to know “have you read it?” and “what did you think of it?”. The more I heard about it the more I felt reluctant to read it – I’m very good at avoiding things I know will make me cry, and I always get scared when something is so hyped that it just can’t possibly live up to it. When it was discussed at the Wales YLG nominations day as a potential CILIP Carnegie Medal nominee I knew I needed to give it a go and so requested it from my library, it’s clearly still very popular – I had to wait more than 2 months for it and have to take it straight back as there are people below me in the list!

The book is about Auggie, a boy with a combination of syndromes and medical conditions that have resulted in him having a severe facial deformity. He’s been home schooled up until the time the book starts, partly because of all the medical procedures and appointments he has had and partly because it has protected him from the potential horrors of school and mixing with lots of kids. The book starts with the decision being made that this year is the year he will integrate into school, and it follows him through that first year and all the ups and downs that come with it.

The book is told from a number of different perspectives, Auggie of course gets to tell a good proportion of the story but his sister Olivia and a couple of the children at Auggie’s new school are amongst the narrators who join Auggie. I thought this worked really well for the book, getting to see both Auggie and things that happened through different sets of eyes really allows the reader to get a good impression of everything. The whole book is based on the idea that appearances don’t actually tell you anything, and getting to see multiple perspectives helps to show this. It also allows the reader to really see how things aren’t black and white, some reactions the first time you read them seem downright unthinking and awful but once you get to see another perspective on them you realise how wrong that initial impression can be.

I liked Auggie a lot, he’s a warm and interesting character. I loved how knowing he was at times, he is so aware of his situation and also of how he doesn’t always do the right thing as a result of it – he acknowledges on more than one occasion that he could be behave differently but doesn’t really want to. I think he’s a well created character, he could have been irritating and whiny but instead has a good attitude without coming across as precocious. I also loved Olivia, she has a real story of her own – whilst Auggie’s starting school for the first time she is starting high school and having to navigate the difficulties of friendships and growing up along with being Auggie’s sister.

One of my favourite characters was Mr Browne, the English teacher. He reminded me a bit of my English teacher through high school, though even cooler. I loved his idea of a precept a month and of adding that deeper thinking to the children’s schooling.

There’s no doubt about it this is a moving book to read. There are moments that will leave you thinking about the book for ages after you’ve read it and there are moments that will make you stop and think about your own actions. I can certainly understand why this book was talked about do much last year and why it made the long list for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. When the short list is announced in March I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see this book on it.

Wonder is published by Bodley Head in the UK.

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