Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder  by R. J. Palacio is why I love books.  Books like this one really do have the power to make a difference in the world.  Wonder  is about a young boy named August who was born with severe facial abnormalities.  On the very first page, he puts it this way: "I won't describe what I look like.  Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."  That makes it sound pretty bad.  Throughout the novel the reader gets a few glimpses of August's appearance, but nothing concrete.  August has been home schooled due to all the surgeries he has needed, but he is now about to start fifth grade at a "real school."  He is confused about whether or not he wants to go to school, but feels angry that his mother is pushing him.  When he goes to tour his new school, he turns to give his mother an angry look, but then he notices that she looks even more afraid than he feels.  I can't imagine being in that mother's position.
Wonder  is told through the point of view of several people including August, his sister, some of the people he meets at his new school, and some of his sister's friends.  Unfortunately, the reality is that kids are cruel.  Sometimes they mean to be hurtful and other times their unkindness is accidental.  August meets all kinds.  The interesting thing is that August is new to his school, but he is not new to his face.  He knows what people think of him, he hears their whispers and sees their stares.  He knows what to expect and he does a pretty good job of pretending like it doesn't bother him even when it really does.
An interesting point of view was that of August's older sister, Olivia.  She is also beginning a new school as a freshman and is struggling in her own way.  Sadly, for Olivia sympathy is difficult to find.  She says, "My worst day, worst fall, worst headache, worst bruise, worst cramp, worst mean thing anyone could say has always been nothing compared to what August has been through.  This isn't me being noble, by the way:  it's just the way I know it is."  I felt like the author did an excellent job of exploring the feelings and perspectives of the other people around August.
When I say that that books like this one have the power to change the world it is because of the opportunity the reader has to gain so much in the way of compassion and empathy.  The value of reading is in learning to see the world through someone else's eyes and that can easily be done here.  August's voice is clearly that of a ten-year-old boy.  Any young reader can feel what he feels and any older reader can remember that age and also knows that sometimes we all feel like a ten-year-old.

This book should be required reading for everyone, but especially for children entering their preteen years.  Cruelty can be so easy and kindness so hard sometimes, but it is always the right thing.  Quoting J. M. Barrie, one character, the school director says, "Shall we make a new rule of life...always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?"  The director then goes on to add, "If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder that is necessary- the world really would be a better place.  And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday , may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God."  Kindness is necessary.  Choose to be kinder.  

I applaud this book.  I give it a standing ovation.

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