Wonder. I'll say it's a wonder!
Updated: Jan 30, 2020
Late to the party again with this one but I'm so glad that I made it.
I've had R. J. Palacio's Wonder sitting on my book shelves for, probably, 5 years now. Lots of my students recommended it to me and told me how much I'd enjoy it but somehow, I just never got around to it.
Then I was in a lesson with a student last week and he said how much he disliked the book. A typically perverse move on my part was to decide, at that moment, that I had to read it immediately. What is wrong with me? (Rhetorical, obviously, and even if it weren't, there's not enough time in the world to answer that one!).
"It wreaks emotional havoc." Independent
There is critical praise everywhere for this book but you know that already and, presumably, you're reading this to find out what I though. All I can say is that, for me, The Independent hit the nail on the head.
Wonder is the story of August Pullman and his first year, in fifth grade, at his new school. August inherited a double dose of a mutant gene, which led to him being born with craniofacial abnormalities. This is the story of a boy, who feels ordinary, because he likes doing ordinary things, but who knows that others see him as anything but ordinary. When he meets people for the first time, he's greeted with shock, surprise, sometimes horror.
However, the interesting thing for me, was that this is not just August's story and the challenges he faces; this is the story of those around him, those who befriend him, like Summer and, eventually, Jack Will, and of his sister, Via, who has, in many ways had to put her own life and emotional needs on hold because August was so ill for much of his early life. For Via, it's the story of her guilt about wanting to be noticed for herself and not wanting to be talked about just because she's the sister of the 'funny-looking kid'.
Right from the start, I was utterly invested in the character of August. Palacio's writing is sensational and the multi-voice format really works for me. (I did have a moment of stepping back from the story to think about how she'd done this as this is pertinent to something I'm working on at the moment. That moment didn't last long though, as I just wanted to get back into finding out what was going to happen to Auggie.)
Technically, the book is aimed at 8-12 year olds but, like so many other works on the market, it can be read by tweens, teens, young adults and fully-fledged, admittedly immature, 52 year olds. I think there's something in there for everyone and the message that however we feel about someone, if they feel they are ordinary and they wish to be treated as ordinary, that is what we must do.
I have only cried at one book before in my life - that's two now! Admittedly, one of the moments in Wonder where I cried was when the family dog dies; that's fairly standard for me. The other part which really moved me was the speech made by Mr. Tushman, the middle-grade director. Palacio writes so beautifully that you feel you are there, listening to the speech and seeing Mr. Tushman struggle with his own emotions. This bit I especially loved:
Be 'Kinder than is necessary'. Why not? If we could all give that a little go, how much better would we feel about life?
30th January 2020
As always happens after a good book, thoughts have been going round my head about Wonder and I just wanted to post a little update from the point of view of someone with, what might be classed as, a disability. I have Relapsing/Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. So, this is how it goes:
1) Sometimes I feel great and my illness is invisible even to me. Good times!
2) Sometimes I feel not so great and my illness is invisible to everyone but those who are really close to me.
3) Sometimes I feel pretty bleedin' terrible and it's fairly impossible not to notice. This stage often involves a stick or two.
This is something I've lived with since 1995, so not my whole life and I can't begin to imagine how that must be. As I've said, there are times, and often really long spells where I feel great, so I can't begin to imagine what it must be like to have every day governed or influenced by physical challenges. For me, though, that is the whole point - I can't begin to imagine. My experience is my experience. I don't expect anyone to understand it. I just hope that they will acknowledge that it's the way I feel.
I am not comparing my life to Auggie's. I have had it easy; I know that. I am saying that any portrayal of disability is an individual experience and can not reflect what anyone else is going through. We are all so different. Just as any portrayal of any life is individual.
I know, for example, that there are people who don't like the idea of the sister, Via, who has her own struggle and they think this is a cliché. But I can't say that. I have never been in that situation. What I can say is that I know how difficult and frustrating it is for those around me when they are powerless to help; how irritating it must be at times. Their difficulty with my situation is, for me, as important a story as mine is.
I hope that I've got some sort of point across. For me, everyone's struggle and everyone's story is wholly individual and all we can do is Choose Kindness.