Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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Yesterday was the perfect day to read Wonder, the novel by R.J. Palacio. It was rainy and dreary all day, and because my car was being used by my son, I was stranded at home. The light blue book in my “to read” pile caught my eye so I made a cup of hot chocolate (no car to drive to Starbucks), got a blanket and began reading. I had heard a lot about Palacio’s novel and read a number of strong reviews, but nothing prepared me for this powerful and moving book.

Wonder is the story of Auggie, a fifth grade student who, at the start of the novel, has already experienced 27 surgeries to address his severe facial deformity.  The novel begins with Auggie telling his own story. He knows the affect he has on people. “In the hallways, which were always crowded, my face would always surprise some unsuspecting kid who maybe hadn’t heard about me. The kid would make the sounds you make when you hold your breath before going underwater, a little ‘uh!’ sound.”

Auggie is understandably nervous about beginning public school after so many years of being homeschooled and the beginning of the book is told from Auggie’s point of view. But then Palacio changes the narrator and lets Auggie’s sister and several of his classmates tell their stories. The reader experiences how Auggie’s presence affects everyone around him and encourages the reader to think about their own reaction to people with physical abnormalities. There’s even an all too believable passage that includes an email from a parent of a student in Auggie’s class that reads in part: “There are many parents – myself included – who question the decision to let this child into our school at all.”

Summer is a long way off, but I think Wonder would be a good summer read for our middle school students. It’s about friendship and kindness and how fear impacts how we treat one another. I have only one small issue with Palacio’s amazing book. Auggie and his friends are in fifth grade, but I know lots of fifth graders, and the kids in this book seem a little older than ten. Their insights and even the way they talk with one another seem more seventh grade than fifth. But…that’s a small issue. I just imagined Auggie to be about 12 and kept reading this memorable novel.


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