by R.J. Palacio
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY 2012
I got this book for my son for the holidays. It was being heavily promoted and it seemed like the sort of thing he might enjoy. I couldn’t wait to read it myself.
Wonder is a book of children’s fiction. The main characters are fifth graders in New York. The themes, however, are very adult. The story is about a boy who has a severe facial deformity, or as the story more accurately states “mandibulofacial dysostosis”. He’s been home-schooled all his life, but now he’s going to start fifth grade in a school.
The story is told sequentially by multiple points of view. First we get August, the main character, and his sense of self and fears for starting. Then the friends he makes at school give their take on August. We hear from his sister and his sister’s oldest friend. We even hear from August’s sister’s boyfriend. The story wraps up at the end of the 5th grade year again from August’s point of view and we see how much he has grown and changed over the course of the year.
Having raised a special needs child and his sister I have to say that I was impressed with the emotional honesty of this book. The children seem a little older, more mature than typical midwestern 5th graders, but the way they process their experience is spot on.
The themes in this book are very adult. We often forget that children do experience these things as well. This book is a positive, uplifting look on overcoming adversity. It doesn’t hide or try to sugar coat the emotions the characters feel. It honors adult support without needing the adult characters to “fix” everything for the children.
It was a difficult book for me to read. I have seen too much of these things in my life not to be impacted by the story and the reactions of the characters. The best thing I can say about this book, and this really is a huge recommendation, is that I found it to be genuine.