Saturday, 21 December 2013

Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Book cover of Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Ellie sent me a copy of Wonder as a giveaway/RAK type thing in the early months of 2012... and I subsequently failed to read it for a substantial period of time, obviously. However, a few months ago I participated in my very first 24 hour read-a-thon and it seemed like the perfect, light book to keep me going. Except it's not 'light.' It broke me into a million tiny pieces and I still want to hug it three months down the line.

Plot summary: Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things - eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary - inside. But ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids aren't stared at wherever they go.

Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life. Now, for the first time, he's being sent to a real school - and he's dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted - but can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, underneath it all?

To begin with, I think it's important that I clarify that Wonder is not just a children's anti-bullying book. It is a book about a boy who is bullied, yes, but that is far from the point of it. I thought it might be too young for me and it wasn't. I thought it might be too twee for me and it wasn't. Whatever your preconceptions are about this book... they're wrong.

I fell completely and totally in love with it by the end of the first paragraph, literally and seriously (because you can never have too many adverbs in one sentence). I never do that. Auggie's voice was just so perfect that something 'clicked' in my head and I settled down to what I knew was going to be a one-sitting read. I wanted to savour every single word because it's not often that a book speaks out to you that clearly.

Obviously I'm not a ten year old boy and I don't have any facial disfigurements, but Auggie seems so real. Everything he says seems to be exactly the way somebody his age and in his situation would think. He's never self-pitying or whiny - he might be slightly naive, but hey, he's ten. It's allowed. It's also clever how he never really explains what he looks like, except for vague hints like 'whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.' 

I walked towards Jack and followed him out of the auditorium. He held the double doors open for me, and as I passed by, he looked at me right in the face, kind of daring me to look back at him, which I did. Then I actually smiled. I don't know. Sometimes when I have the feeling like I'm almost crying, it can turn into an almost-laughing feeling. And that must have been the feeling I was having then, because I smiled, almost like I was going to giggle. The thing is, because of the way my face is, people who don't know me very well don't always get that I'm smiling. My mouth doesn't go up at the corners the way other people's mouths do. It just goes straight across my face. But somehow Jack got that I had smiled at him. And he smiled back.

It works very well as the narrative then changes to Via, Auggie's sister, who does explain what he looks like. By that point, you're already too in love with him to really care - which is the point of the book, I'd guess. Once you know a person on the inside, you don't care what their outside looks like and this is demonstrated perfectly here.

Some narratives are better than others, obviously. Via (who named these kids!?) can be a bit of a martyr, but then again people do tend to forget about the healthy child and focus on the disabled one. I wish her father would stop going on about War & Peace though, like the fact that she's read it means it's okay for her to take the subway alone? It's a book, not a rape whistle.

The best narrative by far was Jack, a school friend of Auggie's. Again, it captures the persona absolutely perfectly. It demonstrates the precise level of cruelty in children, where they kind of understand the effects of what they're saying, but then kind of not. I read on the author's website that the story was inspired by her own accidental reaction to a child with the same physical problem to Auggie, which probably explains why everything here is so carefully thought out.

Basically, Auggie's disfigurement is shown from lots of different angles - his family, his schoolmates, strangers, etc. These perspectives show that you can think you know what's going on inside a person's head, but you can't - not ever. You automatically assume that people who look afraid of a disfigured person are rude or inconsiderate, but you cannot know how they're actually feeling. Any other book would shove you with the narrative of the poor, disabled boy and that would be that, but not Wonder. It thoroughly explores all the possibilities and leaves you a slightly altered view of the world.

   Jack whispered: "Are you always going to look this way, August? I mean, can't you get plastic surgery or something?"
    I smiled and pointed to my face. "Hello? This is after plastic surgery!"
   Jack clapped his hand over his forehead and started laughing hysterically.
   "Dude, you should sue your doctor!" he answered between giggles.
   This time the two of us were laughing so much we couldn't stop, even after Mr. Roche came over and made us both switch chairs with the kids next to us.

If you've ever been within poking distance of Booking in Heels before, you'll know I don't tend to find the usual books 'moving' or whatever else it is that they're lauded as. Go read my review of The Fault in Our Stars for a demonstration, cause we really didn't get along. But then Wonder came along... and it broke me. I was sat in bed at 3am, tears streaming down my face, full-on sobbing because of what this book did to me. Then I got up and wandered pathetically round the house, looking for my dog to comfort me. When I went back to bed and finished the book, the ending took whatever pieces of me were left and mushed them up a little bit more. This book actually is moving, none of that over-hyped teen romance crap.

The true friendships in this book that really make you feel as if the world isn't such a bad place, after all. There's an all-encompassing form of acceptance that occurs only in very special circumstances, but when it happens it's beautiful.

If you read between the lines of this review very, very carefully, you may just discern that I kind of liked Wonder. Maybe. It's not what I was expecting in the slightest but it's truly Wonder-ful (perhaps the clue is in the title). I don't care if you don't usually read Middle Grade or you're bored of 'bullying is bad' books. I don't CARE - you still have to read this as I can almost guarantee it will exceed your expectations.

Read Ellie's review at Book Addicted Blonde.


  1. This has made Wonder climb even higher up the list of books that I really really want to read. It sounds so good!

  2. Aaaah, Hanna, even your REVIEW had me welling up again thinking about how lovely this book is. It broke my heart in some ways and then mended it again in others, and yes, by the end, I was a sobbing mess of happy feels. I mean, I KNEW the ending was manipulating ALL THE FEELS, but I didn't care, because movies do that too and I still cry at the end because WE HAVE BEEN ON THIS JOURNEY TOGETHER. Auggie is still one of my favourite characters, and Jack is seriously the coolest kid ever.

    I'm so glad you finally read it - I think I was planning to do a giveaway wasn't I? And then I only had, like, three entries, so I thought 'bugger that' and just sent one to each of you? Haha, that's how much I loved this book. :)


Grab my Button

Booking in Heels

Booking In Heels Copyright 2008 Fashionholic Designed by Ipiet Templates Supported by Tadpole's Notez