Friday, October 23, 2015

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio

Staff review by Chris Saliba

R. J. Palacio’s bittersweet novel about a boy with a facial deformity, and his struggle for acceptance, will make you laugh, will make you cry. A truly inspirational story written from the heart.

August Pullman is a ten-year-old boy who happens to have a facial deformity, commonly known as Treacher Collins syndrome. In the opening chapter, which he narrates, he says that he won’t bother describing his face, but adds “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse”. “Auggie”, as he’s known to family and friends, has been home schooled by his mother, Isabel. His family is a very loving one. He has a protective and supportive sister, Via, and a fun loving father, Nate. But now Auggie’s mother is starting to get anxious for his future. She wants him to have a more regular life and thinks he should try going to school. This is fraught with complications, for obvious reasons. Auggie is not totally keen on the idea, but decides to try it out.

His parents enroll him at Beecher Prep. To smooth the transition, he meets the school director before the term starts, Mr Tushman. Mr Tushman has organised a mini welcoming committee of three students, Jack Will, Julian Albans and Charlotte Cody. Their job is to try and make friends with him early, so he won’t be lost at sea and alienated. This strategy produces mixed results and Auggie’s progress through school is a painful mixture of two steps forward, one step back. His presence in the school even starts to divide the students into various camps, those who are against him, those for him and those neutral. To add to the emotional complications, one of the parents, a powerful school board member, suggests to Mr Tushman that Auggie shouldn’t be at Beecher Prep because the school doesn’t cater to kids with special needs. Auggie, however, doesn’t have any special needs.

It’s a given that Wonder has a happy ending, but that’s not after many heart wrenching twists and turns. When Auggie asks his mother why he has to be so ugly, and she can’t really answer, it’s hard not to hold back the tears. The great achievement of Wonder is its authenticity and emotional realism. Everything that happens, and how it is dealt with, makes sense. It’s hard to think of a person this story wouldn’t appeal to, as it excavates every school yard trauma you could imagine. It’s a place we’ve all been, either being bullied or watching kids bullied.

The story is told through many different voices, that of the students, Auggie’s sister Via, and her boyfriend Justin. In this way R.J. Palacio skilfully brings to life all the complex dynamics that surround Auggie’s coming out into the more grown up world of school. Wonder is a great story about a boy’s triumph over great difficulties and how his triumph also makes better people of those around him. A book not to be missed!

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. Published by Corgi Children. ISBN: 9780552565974 RRP: $19.99

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