R.J. Palacio has created an amazing, heart-wrenching book in Wonder that will leave you cheering in the end for Auggie and the family he forms around him. Told in eight voices ranging from Auggie to his sister’s first high school boyfriend, Wonder is the story of one boy’s first year of middle school. This is a book that must be shared.
Starting middle school is rough. New kids, new classes, new places to get lost, and new people to make fun of you. Auggie is taken to his new middle school weeks before the new year begins to meet Mr. Tushman, the principal of Beecher Prep. Once there, Auggie is upset to learn that he’s not only meeting the principal but that there are students there to show him around. Jack Will, Julian and Charlotte are all incoming fifth graders. They’re all supposed to be nice kids, at least according to their lower grade teachers and they’ve been at Beecher Prep since they were in kindergarten. Yet only Charlotte can meet Auggie’s eyes without looking down afterwards. Julian goes out of his way to avoid touching Auggie and keeps watching him out of the corner of his eyes.
The strange looks are nothing new, even though Auggie’s never been to school before. Twenty-seven surgeries, his size and other medical complications kept him homeschooled at home with his mother until the start of fifth grade. Now that the next surgery is a few years away, Auggie’s mother wants him to start attending school. Auggie’s worried how the other kids will react to him. On the inside, Auggie feels like an ordinary kid, but kids have run away at the sight of him before.
Auggie’s fifth grade journey has its dark moments filled with pain, such as Halloween when he overhears a friend say he only hangs out with Auggie because a teacher asked him or when the family dog becomes gravely ill. It has its brilliant moments, such as when Summer sits down beside August at lunch that very first day when no one else will.
I loved getting inside the head of so many people in Auggie’s life and seeing why they behaved the way they did. Jack Will’s chapters brought new light on what had happened earlier and brought home what it felt like to have a school turn on him after he stood up to Julian. Via’s chapters rang with love for her brother but also with her shamed desire to not be defined by him. One of my favorite sections in this book came from Justin, Via’s boyfriend. He didn’t even know about Auggie until the third date. Even though Olivia prepped him for the first meeting, Justin is surprised by what he sees in August. He’s determined to make things work out. That isn’t what endears Justin to me as a reader. Rather it is how Justin is accepted by Auggies family and how that acceptance eases his tics. It’s in how this awkward musical boy decides to help Jack and Auggie. One of the most surprising set of chapters came from Via’s former close friend Miranda because it showed how much one girl wanted a family like Via’s even with all it’s difficulties.
The characters laugh and cry their way off the pages in Wonder. The adults and children all have foibles. Some are terribly flawed. All of them are alive. The nature retreat at the end and its aftermath are riveting, an unforgettable emotional roller coaster in a wonder of a book.
I first read this book as a digital galley from Net Galley.