Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Wonder is realist fiction and is set in Manhattan. It’s the story of an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face. The main protagonist is ten-year-old August Pullman, born with a rare genetic condition that caused severe facial disfigurement.
The story centres on his experiences of attending school for the first time. Due to numerous surgical interventions, he was previously home-schooled. The narrative runs over the course of the academic year. It has several themes; friendship, compassion, empathy and even bereavement and divorce are touched upon; but it is primarily about bullying and courage. It drives home the message that life shouldn’t be about what we look like, but rather who we are. This is what is so appealing about this novel.
August is an avid Star Wars fan and there are quite a few references to film and literature throughout. He has a fifteen year sister, Olivia, nicknamed Via. Via is a likeable character with a mature head on her shoulders. She attends a different school to her brother. Julian Albans is the main instigator of bullying August. Jack Will teeters between friend-enemy at different points in the story, with powerful impact. There are a lot of characters in this book, but it isn’t confusing and they all offer different insights.
Although this was written for younger teens, this is one of those crossover books that can appeal to any age and has been an international bestseller. Wonder is written in the first person but has multiple perspectives and this is where I was left in two minds. I felt the author showed too many perspectives and as a result the character voices didn’t always sound that different from one another. Too much of it was told to the reader (in an overly chatty style). I enjoyed the parts where the action was shown and found this much more effective. I think it’s easy to underestimate readers of any age and overstate things. I’d have preferred it if the moment was allowed to speak for itself more. Having said that, in places it left me feeling shocked, angry and with a distinct lump in my throat.
It is being adapted to film and I anticipate liking this more than the book, which isn’t always the case. I’m sure the film could eliminate the writing style that I struggled with and offer some powerful imagery.
Overall, I admire this book and the intention of the author. It breaks new ground in its subject matter. Okay, so it’s moralistic at points in the way it is written, but as humans can be horrible to each other, it’s fair to say this story has a ‘wonder’-ful (excuse the pun!) message to impart.
It was listed for the Carnegie Medal Awards and also for the UKLA Book Award. It won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2013. I have the 2014 edition that includes the ‘Julian Chapter’ but this is also available separately. Check it out and see what you think.