Wonder by R.J. Palacio (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).
Ten-year-old August Pullman is nervous about starting fifth grade after being homeschooled all his life. He knows he looks different from other kids, even frightening, because of congenital facial deformities, but deep down he feels like an ordinary kid, and he wants to be treated like one. He visits Beecher Prep before school starts and the middle school director, Mr. Tushman, has arranged for several students to show Auggie around and then help him over the first few days. While the arranged friendships don't work out as planned, another student befriends him, and eventually a few more, until at last nearly everyone learns to see past the deformity and value Auggie for who he is--a super, nice, funny kid.
First off, hats off to Palacio for her incredible handling of such a sensitive topic. Most places wouldn't consider fifth grade middle school the way this book does, but it is the perfect grade for a book on this topic because kids are a lot more forgiving at ten than at thirteen, when being like everyone else and fitting in become much, much more crucial. Not that all of the characters are able to see past Auggie's appearance. One boy in particular bullies Auggie and instigates some aggression. Auggie is a wonderful character, funny and heart breaking by turns, and I loved reading his perspective. His sense of humor makes him engaging for readers and lends credibility to his developing friendships. What made the book brilliant, though, is the varying perspectives of so many characters, some of whom seem peripheral, but whose viewpoints show how actions beget more actions. This includes how Auggie's parents' actions have impacted their family life and how his older sister has adapted. Further, all the characters are brutally honest about their initial reactions to Auggie's appearance and then how their feelings change as they get to know him. None of the adults serve as narrators, so the novel is truly kidcentric, even as adults obviously guide some of the events.
This book is virtually guaranteed to win many awards and land on many best and recommended lists. It would make a great readaloud, especially at school where issues like bullying and judging people by their appearance could be usefully discussed. Overall, it's a wonderful read for ages nine and up.
I read a lot, especially kid and young adult lit. This blog will review what I've been reading. I get most of my reading material from the library, plus I buy books at school book fairs and the usual stores. I look for freebies on Amazon for my Kindle, and I'm happy to review any ARCs or e-galleys I can get my hands on.