R. J. Palacio’s Wonder (Knopf, $15.99) has been receiving excellent press since it was released in February of this year. It made the New York Times Notable Children’s Books list for 2012 as well as the Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books of the year. It’s also been flying off our shelves since summer and is on our store’s Picks of the Year so I figured it was finally time to read it.
August Pullman is starting 5th grade and for the first time in his life, he is going to school. Due to a statistically improbable genetic condition, he doesn’t look like anyone else: “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse”. Auggie’s perceptions and ability to read people have become so acute over the years that — regardless of the severity of someone’s response — he always registers the exact moment that a person first sees him. Some people scream, some express quiet shock, and some only pause for one millionth of a second, but Auggie always knows. Fifth grade, as the principal of Beecher Middle School indicates, is the beginning of the transition from childhood to adulthood. His classmates reactions to him range from innocent curiosity to maliciousness.
While the narrative is primarily focalized through August’s perspective, Palacio gives the story more depth by incorporating other character’s interpretations. As perceptive as Auggie might be, he is young. He is so aware of people’s initial impressions that he often misses the changing over time as people get to know him. Hearing his friends’, his older sister’s, and some of her friends’ voices allows for more complex understanding of the full story. Shock doesn’t always mean fear. Sometimes people say things they don’t really believe. And first impressions fade into deeper understanding.
“my head swirls on this, but then softer thoughts soothe, like a flatted third on a major chord. no, no, it’s not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn’t. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can’t see. . . . maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.” ~ Justin, Wonder