Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Wonder": Wonderful. For Real.

I cried.

Actually, I cried more than once while reading this book.  If it's been awhile since you have read a really great book that made you want to stand up and cheer, you need to pick up the book "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio.

Someone in my old book club wrote this on her list of "books she wants to read" and I remembered it last week while I was at the library picking up a book for my daughter.  After I sobbed three times yesterday while finishing this book, I decided that I really want my daughter to put down her "Dork Diary" series and read this, so I can talk to her about it.

Palacio's book revolves around 10 year old, not so ordinary August (Auggie) Pullman and his first year not being homeschooled.  His mom and dad decided to homeschool Auggie due to his severe facial abnormalities and his constant visits to the hospital for many surgeries to correct complications due to his abnormalities.  It's not just the surgeries or past health problems that keep him home, it's also the fact that people actually recoil when they look at Auggie.  He even says, "I won't describe what I look like.  Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."

Fifth grade life can wear anyone down, but Auggie's experiences as a new 5th grader to Beecher Prep school are treacherous.  Without the kindness of the unfortunately named headmaster, Mr. Tushman, Jack Will (a boy who was forced at first to befriend Auggie and later becomes his friend), and Summer (a girl who decides to forgo the popular path and sit with Auggie at lunch because they both have summery names), Auggie's experiences at Beecher could have been downright tragic.  As Mr. Tushman's speech at the graduation ceremony at the end of the book demonstrates, when people place kindness as the measure of success in education, everyone wins.  He includes a quotation from J. M. Barrie's book called "The Little White Bird" in his uncharacteristically short commencement address, "Shall we make a new rule of life . . . always to be kinder than is necessary?" Just re-reading this part in the book made me all choked up again.

Palacio makes Auggie lovable - the right blend of self awareness and an earnest determination to stick it out in school against all odds.  She doesn't stop at Auggie, though.  Each chapter is told from another character's perspective, so we get the full spectrum of emotions revolving around August's entry into school.  Palacio effortlessly captures the voice of Via, Auggie's older, protective and guilt riddled sister just as well as she gives a voice to Jack Will and his nonchalant attitude towards life until he meets August.

I don't want to give too much away because this is one of those books that I believe will eventually be made into a movie, but it's also one of those books like "The Fault in Our Stars" that people can believe in.  After reading it, I had a renewed faith in humanity.  I know this is fiction that I am writing about, but certain books just speak to our hearts and heads, and R.J. Palacio was able to achieve this in her debut novel.  She just rocks.

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