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Wonder - review

Wonder by R J Palacio is shortlisted for The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013 this year, and I was eager to get page-turning to find out why.

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

August "Auggie" Pullman is a ten year old boy born with a severe facial deformity. He is about to go to school for the first time. Acutely aware of how his face causes reactions in people when they see him, Auggie is scared of what the children at his new school will think of him, and how well he will settle in. When the school's headmaster arranges for a group of "well regarded" children from Auggie's class to welcome him, though, Auggie finds he has at least two friends already. As he copes with the day to day politics of middle school life, Auggie grows immeasurably as a person and receives an honour that affirms that he is not "ordinary", but surprisingly to Auggie, it is not because of his face.

I really enjoyed Wonder and found it to be a quick and absorbing read, touchingly told. It is written from the points of view of the people who know Auggie: his sister Via, Via's friends, Auggies schoolmates, and Auggie himself. I found this to be wholly enjoyable. Each of the voices are clearly defined and their tellings overlap beautifully. I especially enjoyed reading Via's narrative of being the constant shadow of the family, second fiddle to her brother's needs and careful not to cause unnecessary worry when there was so much already for Auggie. I probably felt more for her than any one else. I also loved Miranda's chapter, for how it linked with Via's.

I have to say it was refreshingly nice to see a parental unit in a book that was so caring, happy and involved in their children's lives. Actually, a parental unit itself in a children's book seems to be something of a novelty these days... Yes, they had their flaws, especially where Via was concerned, and maybe they were a little too perfect - but you could tell they loved their children and wanted the best for them. I'm standing up right now and saying we need more parents in children's books. 

While Wonder is undoubtedly a great coming of age story with strong (verging on preachy) themes of acceptance, kindness and friendship, I can't help but feel it is a story I have already read before. It's a "look beyond the surface" morality tale told a million times over in YA and NA genres, not to mention teen movies and Disney. It's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Auggie). It's My Sister's Keeper (Via). It's Beauty and the Beast (Summer)...

I don't know if it's just me, but I kind of want - even expect - these shortlisted books to challenge me in some way, or have a unique point of view. I mean, it's just all very sweet for Auggie to be a nice kid, and that other ten year olds were able to look deeper. But what if they looked beyond the face and found Auggie was actually not a nice person? What if ten year olds just don't have the maturity to look past deformity, despite the willingness - desperation? - of the adults to be seen to be all welcoming? Would these perspectives not have made for a less cliched story?

The age of the children in the book was actually a constant source of wonderment (ha!) for me in this book - but not in a positive way. I had to remind myself almost EVERY chapter that these kids were ten. I don't know if kids have changed much since I was ten, but dating never came into our school lives at that age. Empathy was hard to come by let alone natural grand gestures of friendship towards a kid who everyone thought had "the Plague", as happens in the book. Maybe I just went to a harsh school ;)
On the other hand, Auggie has teddies and calls his parents Mommy and Daddy at the beginning of the book. There is a complete polar spectrum of ten year olds here!

That aside, though, Wonder is a book I will widely recommend to my friends and family. Ok, I wasn't challenged in many ways, but that doesn't mean it is not a great book. Honestly, if you don't close the final page with a fuzzy sense of Happy in your chest you really can't be human!

8/10 for Wonder, and I'm being harsh only because it's shortlisted for awards!

2 comments

  1. I agree with this. I liked it a lot, but you're right, I didn't feel challenged. Though, I did feel it would be a book worth teaching in a classroom of any age students and having a discussion about kindness.

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    1. Yeah it's a great book for discussion - I loved the idea of writing down a precept for the month. I wish my English teacher had done that! I guess it's never too late to start :)

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