Wonder by R.J. Palacio
My library book club is reading R.J. Palacio’s Wonder for March, which has been on my to-read list for several years now. I like reading young adult and middle-grade fiction, because I get a sense of what kids read and what they like. I’ll be interested to hear how my peers found Wonder, because I just finished it yesterday and am processing a whole bunch of thoughts.
Wonder is the story of August (or Auggie) Pullman, a ten-year-old boy with craniofacial anomalies, starting with a cleft palate and a whole other series of syndromes. Auggie has had several surgeries already, but his face is deformed and scary looking. He is about to enter mainstream school for the first time, and he is nervous about the journey. Told in the perspectives of several people, including his sister Via, her boyfriend Justin, his friends Jack and Savannah, and Via’s childhood friend Miranda, we get a sense of who Auggie is and what a wonder life can be.
Palacio handles Auggie’s disabilities with immense compassion, as she should. She further sends a strong message against bullying, which is important for kids and teens to read. I can really see why people loved this story and gave it rave reviews.
This is the part where I tell you to take my review with a grain of salt, because I just did not love this book (let the record show that I also don’t go gaga for John Green, Rainbow Rowell, or Hamilton). I get that Auggie is the protagonist, and therefore the focus of the book. But it felt at times as if Palacio had Mary Sued him, that he had no real faults and no real character growth except endurance and riding out a wave of bullying. The story also had a Very Special aspect to it, which seemed like Palacio just tried Too Hard to Make Fetch Happen. And at times, the interactions between ten-year-old kids just felt overwritten and overplotted. Finally, the ending was kind of annoying and unrealistic to me. I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that it was, while cathartic and affirming, also unrealistic and artificial. There are some deeply genuine moments that made the story moving, but those often got pushed aside for an overall arc of Very Special Story. I tend to like something a bit more organic. Your own mileage may vary.