Wonder by R. J. Palacio
This is the tender story of August, a 10 year old boy who is normal in every way except for his face, which had been devastated by a facial deformity called mandibulofacial dysostosis. This genetic abnormality gives August the kind of face that scares small children and adults alike. Up until the book begins, August has been home schooled, but before he starts 5th grade, which is middle school in his New York City district, his parents decide that he should begin to attend regular school. This book carries August through this first year, which is fraught with the expected difficulties and made beautiful by moments of bravery and true friendship.
The themes of this book are universal, as they champion the ideal of inclusion and tolerance of others. Anyone who has ever survived middle school knows that this is a harrowing time for even the most attractive, smart, or athletic individuals, but anyone with anything that is not perfect is screwed! August has to confront the involuntary reactions that everyone has to initially seeing his face, but he also has to endure the alienation of the children who are both afraid of him and mean to him. On the contrary, he also learns that there are some children who do not worry about what others think of them and those children are the heroes of the story.
The story is also told from different voices, which adds so much to this book. We hear from August, from his sister Via, and from others in the book who give their account of what is happening to August. I love having these other narratives because it gives that much more depth to the story.
Some would argue that it is silly to read this book because it’s meant for children. It is true that I am reading it because my 10-year old son asked me to. But this book is absolutely for adults as well. Who among us can say that they cannot be more tolerant and inclusive of others? Who needs not be reminded of the difficulties of others and how important it is to be sensitive to what others need?
This book speaks to us all.