Occasionally, you come across a book that fills your heart with the milk of human kindness. It makes you reflect on empathy. And it leaves you feeling like you’ve had a conversation with your best friend. Wonder by R.J.Palacio is one such book that does all of the above and then some.

I first heard about ‘Wonder’ when a couple of book blogger friends mentioned it. Their tastes are similar to mine and I was keen to find out if I’d love the book as much as they did. Plus, I wanted to see if it would match up to the incredibly high standards set by another book. ‘A Man called Ove’ is a book I fell in love with and swore that nothing else I’d read this year would come close.

Oh, how wrong I was! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the premise of the story.

Blurb

My name is August.

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.


Story in brief (from Goodreads)

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream schoolβ€”until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?


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Wonder by R.J.Palacio Book Cover

There are many reasons a person loves a book. Sometimes, it’s the characterisation. Other times it’s the progression of the plot. Or maybe it’s the way the writer weaves context into dialogues and descriptions. In addition, there’s the background of what a reader brings to the book when she’s reading it.

When I heard rave reviews of this book, I was keen to get my hands on it. Since Christmas was around the corner, I put in a request with my blogging group’s Secret Santa game and said that this was the only thing I wanted. Santa delivered and how! I got hooked to the book from page 1. Granted it’s a very unique story idea, so that may have had something to do with it. ButΒ  there’s something else too. To be honest, I doubt my review will do justice to all my feelings about this book, but I am going to try. In no particular order, here are the things I loved about the book.

The Storyline:

In essence, it’s a pretty simple story of a young boy who finds himself thrust into a new school. What makes it unique is the fact that his facial deformity sets him apart, makes him a target for bullying and the heartbreaks and triumphs that ensue through the pages. Set in middle school, it’s uncannily perfect for me as a parent, because my daughter is exactly the age of the protagonist, Auggie Pullman.

Remember how I spoke about mean girls and dealing with them a while ago? While the circumstances are vastly different here, the pain of exclusion is one I could relate to very well. I can’t wait for her to read the book, so we can discuss it together.

The progression that Auggie makes through the book and through the school year make you smile and cry in so many places that I had to literally shut the book several times to wash my face! Anyone would think I’d experienced a siginificant loss! Perhaps I did. Maybe I lost a part of myself to this wonderful book.

The characters:

Every single character is etched with care. Now that’s a challenge given that some of them have seemingly minor roles in the book. But it’s not the amount of space they are given in the story that matters. It’s what they do with it that counts. Such a valuable lesson there. We are all put on this earth with a purpose. It may seem miniscule in comparison to everyone else but it has its place in the fabric of the universe.

One of my favourite characters is Mr. Browne. In my mind he is the perfect example of a teacher who leads by example and inspires by action.

His precepts are ideas that all of us can apply-adults and children and let’s face it, we could all use more compassion in the world.

I really don’t have other favourite characters except to say I liked them all! Yes, that may sound sweeping, but it’s true. What I particularly appreciated was that every person was sketched in shades of gray, instead of black or white.

In particular, I appreciated the extra ‘Julian’ chapter in the end. That to me was one of the best parts about the book. It’s very difficult to understand why a kid turns into a bully. But the author does a wonderful job of etching out reasons and what’s more, goes deep into some unknown history that will have you crying ugly tears by the end of it.

The concepts of friendship, kindness and empathy

It isn’t enough to talk about these ideas. It’s important to show how they work in a practical setting. None of the scenes in the book are forced. Everything happens the way you would expect. That first start of disbelief when kids see August or the way they avoid touching him for fear that they may be ‘infected’, these are very natural child-like behaviours.

But even among them we sometimes have kids who look past all of it and are kind anyway. I’ve known a few kids like that, growing up and I was glad to see a few like them in the book too.

 

Multiple view points in the storytelling

I confess when I came to the end of the first ‘Auggie’ chapter and the story picked up from there with the voice of another character, I wondered how this would play out. Multiple voices usually don’t work for me because I feel it restricts the storytelling pace. But I was so glad to be proven wrong in this case!

And nothing sums up that feeling of satisfaction better than this quote by one of the characters.

Whether it is Olivia’s frankness, Jack’s struggle, Summer’s warmth or Justin’s sweetness, I admired the way the story stayed taut and comfortable for the reader. For one thing, the storyline was maintained to be linear, so that helped. The only quibble I had was I’d have loved to see the view points of two key characters but it’s really a very minor quibble. I cannot fault the book for that.

A lesson for everyone:

In a world that seems increasingly populated with fear, anger and disillusionment, books like these are necessary to keep us going. ‘Wonder’ is a book that will make you smile, laugh out loud in parts and mostly keep tissues handy for every fifth page. You will be surprised how invested you become in fictional characters and start rooting for them with all your heart.

And now, I must sign off, before this review runs away from me and becomes as long as the book itself!

If there is one book that you read this year or decide to begin the next year with, let it be ‘Wonder’. I promise you, whether you are a parent or a child, an adult or a teenager, you will not regret adding this book to your shelf.

Age group: 10 years and above

Rating: 5 stars

Recommended read: Do read this absolutely beautiful review of the book by an 11-year-old boy.

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Pick up a copy of the book from Amazon here: Kindle/Hardcover/Paperback/MP3CDΒ 

 

 

 

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