When I was about five years old, my family and I went to a museum in Paris. On the steps outside the museum, I painted my face green with face-paint and pretended to be a T-Rex. It was incredibly entertaining to pretend to be a dinosaur . . . until we had to go home. To do this, we took the subway. I remember sitting in my seat miserably, my face painted green and the people across the row staring at me. They probably thought I was adorable, but I didn’t see it that way. I almost started crying because I wanted that paint off my face so much.
Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, is the story of August Pullman. August is a homeschooled eleven-year-old. He eats ice cream, he rides his bike, and he plays video games. But August is not ordinary: he has a massive birth defect that makes his face horribly disfigured. All his life he’s faced involuntary winces, outright stares, suppressed yelps, second glances. Now he’s up against something more difficult than ever: school.
Have you ever looked at someone and wondered what they were thinking about? Wonder is especially interesting because it is written in the perspective of many different people. There’s August’s perspective, of course, but also the perspectives of Jack Will (August’s best friend), Summer (another of August’s friends), Via (August’s sister), and Miranda (Via’s friend.) It is intriguing to see how different people react to the same things. When Jack says something mean about August, he is disgusted with himself. August is surprised and resentful; Summer is sympathetic with Jack.
Wonder is like chestnut honey. When you first taste it you feel sweetness, although there is a hint of bitterness. When you swallow, the bitterness stays (although not unpleasantly). Just like chestnut honey, August is a sweet boy. He jokes about his defect, like the time he claims that UglyDolls were based on him. When I read that, I couldn’t help laughing a tad. But in the book there is also a bitter sadness that lingers—sometimes it rubs your throat raw.
Wonder is wonderful (no pun intended): funny, sad, insightful, and bittersweet. Being stared at for ten minutes in the subway felt horrible, but it is quite another thing to be stared at your whole life. I don’t think I’m going to stare ever again.
You can buy this book here.