Thursday, June 21, 2012

June Book Pick II -- Wonder, by RJ Palacio


Ten-year-old August, who narrates most of this novel, tells us early on that he won't describe what he looks like, because whatever we're imagining, it's worse. He was born with facial abnormalities that literally make people scream and run away, despite the fact that he's undergone numerous surgeries since birth. He's been homeschooled his whole life, and now his mom thinks it's in his best interest to enter a good, private middle school in New York City for fifth grade. (His dad isn't so sure.) At first, as we might guess, Auggie wants nothing to do with it. After all, he spent most of his early childhood hiding inside a toy astronaut helmet. But then, in a believable fashion, he decides he will visit the school for a trial run, and he enrolls. Because one of the first things we learn about August is that, helmet or no, he has come to accept the face he has. He doesn't pity himself. He doesn't believe his entire existence is a tragedy, and I think the main component of the reader's initial attraction to him is respect.

August comes from a wonderful family: Mom, Dad, teenage sister. Yes, they have their problems. Yes, Mom and Dad don't always agree. But all of them love each other fiercely. It's the love and the upsets and the loyalty and the mistakes and the acceptance that make them wonderful. They are doing a first-class job of raising Auggie without having to be perfect; they, like Auggie himself, send the message that life is precious, livable, and purposeful, even when you have a problem this serious.

Yet, now August must figure out how to cope in the wider world. And yes, some of the kids he meets are as cruel as we'd expect. But many are not. Auggie makes friends because of the good person he is inside, while at the same time some reject him because they just can't cope with his deformities. And we get to hear from many of the people in Auggie's world in their own words, because Palacio uses eight narrators in all.

This story manages to be full of hope without being at all Pollyanna-ish. I'm reaching the point where I'm going to start gushing and burbling, because so far this is my favorite middle-grade novel of 2012. And from a writer's point of view, it's interesting to note that several of these narrators are teens, yet the book was apparently (thankfully!) not seen as unmarketable for that reason. It is still MG, and rightly so.

For me, this book raises the meaning of rooting for a main character to a whole new level. It's about how cruel we can be, how kind we can be, how triumphant we can be, and how powerful love is. You will be cheering at the end, and do make sure you have tissues handy! If you can read only one MG novel this year, you could hardly go wrong picking this one.

17 comments:

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Sounds like a fantastic read. I'll have to add it to the TBR pile.

Thanks Marcia!

Medeia Sharif said...

I have this on my wish list. I almost bought it with a gift card but chose something else. So many books to read. I will get to this, though.

Christine Sarmel said...

So far this was my favorite read of 2012 as well. Gushing richly deserved!

Barbara Watson said...

LOVED this one too! It has so much to tell us about people without feeling preachy.

Bish Denham said...

Okay, I'm adding it!

Marcia said...

Jaye -- I think this one will make the list of all-time favorites for a lot of people.

Medeia -- Yes, so many books to read! I guess we just have to dive in and read some now, some later.

Christine -- I think this is one people will still be talking about years from now.

Barbara -- I just loved how real the characters are, even someone as unique as Auggie, who had to be a challenge to write.

Bish -- You won't be sorry!

Vijaya said...

This has to get on my bookshelf! Thank you for this wonderful review.

Christina Farley said...

I would never have picked this up but it sounds interesting. I love Pollyanna.

Mirka Breen said...

This book sounds *interesting*, and I mean this in the most positive sense. Different, and well done.

Sara Hill said...

It's now on my list. Thanks for the review.

Faith E. Hough said...

I love your reviews, Marcia, and you've never steered me wrong. I can't wait to check this out.

Marcia said...

Vijaya -- Yes, I think you'll love this!

Christina -- Is it because of the cover that you wouldn't pick it up? I do think the cover doesn't give any clues of what it's about. It makes sense only if you already know.

Mirka -- Different and well done are both true.

Sara -- Enjoy it!

Faith -- Gosh, now I wonder if there'll be a first time. :) It won't be this book, though.

Dawn Malone said...

What a coincidence this is! My daughter showed me her reading list for her fall children's literature class and Wonder is on it. I hadn't heard of it, but now I'm curious. Might have to buy and read before she does!

Emily R. King said...

I love a good read AND a good cry. Thanks, Marcia! Sounds like a must read.

Andrea Mack said...

I'm really looking forward to reading this one, I've heard a lot about it. Thanks for the review.

cleemckenzie said...

Excellent recommendation. I have it down as a TBR for sure.

thanks Marcia

Marcia said...

Dawn -- Wow, what a great choice for her reading list. That teacher is on top of new books!

Emily -- Books don't make me cry very often. But this one's a tearjerker.

Andrea -- It's "bump it to the top of your pile" worthy. :)

Lee -- Our TBR piles grow and grow.