Wonder by RJ Palacio
In RJ Palacio’s first novel we meet our protagonist, August, as he is faced with his first experience of going to a school; this is a difficult position to be in for any 10 year old, whether it’s a new school or their first school. This novel takes us through the reality of life for children; the fickleness, the nastiness, the cruel jokes and the fast and lasting friendships. But August must tackle this while also coping with the reactions of others towards his craniofacial abnormality caused by a mutant gene, which has resulted in him having 27 operations. Early in the book, August says: “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Auggie himself, say he is just an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face. It is because of his craniofacial abnormality that his parents have not sent him to school before the age of 10 and why he now has to buck up his courage and his ideas and join children his own age in overcoming his fears.
Interestingly, Wonder is written entirely from the perspective of children – the eldest point of view chapter being from a 16 year old. This is important for the progression of the novel, it is not about the parents, the adults or the teachers; it is about the children, the pupils and how they cope with everyday life among their peers. This novel does indeed pull at our heartstrings, and in more way than one. We care for the characters almost immediately but it also reminded us at Bookclub of our own experiences at Augusts age, and just how cruel and caring children can be to one another.
The book succeeds, ultimately, because the hero, known as Auggie, is such a marvellous character. He’s smart, funny and courageous. It won’t do to give away too much of the plot but Wonder builds to a sweeping, uplifting finale. The book undoubtedly, and skillfully, manipulates the emotions of readers (watch out dog-lovers in particular) but it will delight children and adults because it’s a terrific story and Palacio is exploring some fundamental truths about how humans behave. And how they should behave.