Sometimes you read a book, and feel like it was written for you. That’s how I felt today when I finished reading WONDER by R.J. Palacio, a middlegrade book that is (to the best of my knowledge) coming out with an adult cover since it is cross-threshold.
I 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?
Why do we write books? There are so many books on the shelves today that are written to sell, and really, that’s fair enough. To say that we should write books for honourable reasons is holier-than-thou, because it can be very hard to deliver a message without sounding preachy.
WONDER conveys such an important message that I hope one day it will be read by every child as a coming-of-age process. The protagonist is a ten year old boy whose genetic makeup led to him having a face like none other. He spent his childhood getting surgeries and fighting the odds to keep his life, and now that he’s in peak condition, he’s going to school. It’s a tough journey for him, because while we all sing about the innocence of children, they can be cruel without even realising it sometimes. And other children realise what they’re doing and do it anyway.
I think this book struck such a chord with me because it feels close to my heart. While August’s obstacle is purely physical – his mind is perfect – my own brother was not so lucky. There was a paragraph written in August’s sister’s point-of-view, and I felt like my memories had been copy and pasted into a manuscript, and I have been joking about finding a lawyer ever since.
I never used to see August the way other people saw him. I knew he didn’t look exactly normal, but I really didn’t understand why strangers seemed so shocked when they saw him. Horrified. Sickened. Scared. There are so many words I can use to describe the looks on people’s faces. And for a long time I didn’t get it. I’d just get mad. Mad when they stared. Mad when they looked away. “What the heck are you looking at?” I’d say to people–even grown-ups.
This is, quite literally, like a scene from my life. I remember, once, being very young, probably too young to be steering a wheelchair since I could just about see over the top of it. My brother used to love the broken footpath outside of our house, and so while mum stopped to talk to a neighbour, I took the wheelchair and ran down the hill. Thomas broke into hysterics laughing with each bump we hit, and his laughter only made me want to run faster, laugh harder. He was still giggling when we ran out of path. Rather than climb back up the hill – I was definitely too short and young to push a wheelchair up – I stopped and waited for my mum to reach us. It was then I noticed how quiet it was. I looked to the side, and the children who had just been playing seconds earlier had all stopped, a ball bouncing forgotten between them. They gaped, their young little minds struggling to find an explanation for what they were seeing and failing to comprehend. Unlike Via, August’s sister, my language was not so PG despite my being a little girl. I was younger than Thomas and never knew him to be any different to anyone else, so my temper when people stared was a vicious thing. I still feel angry, even though I understand. To me, Thomas was beautiful. Special.
I think books like WONDER are so important. It made me cry because I related so much to it, and I can only imagine the tolerance it would teach to children. The prevailing message ‘to be kinder than necessary’ is so simple and beautiful, because if we can catch children while they’re young and impress upon them the importance inclusion and goodness, then they can pass on the message to the next generation. Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on a book, but I believe that ideas are powerful, and this one has merit. I won’t harp on too much, but I’ll end on a beautiful quote from Via’s boyfriend’s POV that made me cry, because it is exactly how I feel and never had the words to say.
the universe was not kind to auggie pullman. what did that little kid ever do to deserve his sentence? what did the parents do? or olivia? she once mentioned that some doctor told her parents that the odds of someone getting the same combination of syndromes that came together to make auggie’s face were like one in four million. so doesn’t that make the universe a giant lottery, then? you purchase a ticket when you’re born. and it’s all just random whether you get a good ticket or a bad ticket. it’s all just luck.
my head swirls on this, but then softer thoughts soothe, like a flattened third on a major chord. no, no, it’s not all random, if it really was random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn’t. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can’t see. like with parents who adore you blindly, and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you. and a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you. and even a pink-haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet. maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.
See what I mean? Don’t you want this book on your shelf? Trust me, the next time you have to buy a gift for a kid, get them this book. It’s beautiful and important, and I feel better for having read it.