Here’s a book you just have to like for its feel-good story and important message. Fifth-grader Auggie Pullman has been born with a severe facial deformity, one that has required many surgeries. Previously home-schooled, his family enrolls him in a private middle-school in New York City, and that’s where the story begins.
Not many people can say how a child like Auggie feels to be so disfigured, to be stared at, made fun of, and worse. He has felt it all, yet he remains remarkably upbeat, even when he’s sad. Palacio does a nice job presenting Auggie’s character, through his own words. She continues the story through other characters’ narrations, giving us a wider perspective. Most interesting of these points of view is that of his older sister, Olivia, who has always loved and protected her brother, but begins to push away from that role. She is someone who has lived in the background at home, with necessary attention being given to her brother.
There are some stereotypical characters meant to underscore the author’s message. Julian the bully, Summer, the good-hearted friend, and Jack Will, whose character is the most developed of August’s friends. Jack is an on-the-fence kind of friend who is forced to choose between the popular kids and Auggie.
This is not a complicated story. The characters are simple, the plot somewhat predictable and the ending is neatly tied. I think it’s important to try to read this from a fifth-grade point of view because that is the intended reader. I don’t think it is meant to be completely realistic because its overall message of kindness would be lost to the reader if presented in the messier world of middle school, high school and parent dynamics.
I was a little disappointed, however, that Olivia’s story was not developed more. I think there’s the potential to write a great deal about the sibling who has to grow up with less attention. In addition, I read a review on Amazon that suggested Julian’s point of view would have been interesting to read. I agree with that, but maybe the author thought it would make the book too negative.
Someone else commented that there are two kinds of children’s books: the kind that are meant to entertain and the kind that send a moral message.
If you’re not sure which one Wonder is, Mr. Tushman, the school principal, caps the story with this: Quoting J. M. Barrie in The Little White Bird, he tells the children, “Shall we make a new rule of life…always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”
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