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Wonder by R.J. Palacio - Book Review

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by Catherine Van Bergen (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer who lives on the Bellarine Peninsula. I enjoy finding new things to see and do in the beautiful area that I live in. I'm also a booklover- see my reviews at
Published March 17th 2012
Every now and then you come across a young adult novel that's unique. It makes you think outside the box, and question how you would cope if you found yourself in the same situation as the characters.

This is that novel.

Wonder- R.J. Palacio

August Pullman is only ten years old, but he has been through more in his short life than most people experience in a lifetime. Born with a serious facial deformity, Auggie has undergone countless operations since his birth to look 'normal', and while the attempts have helped him to look a lot better than he once did, his face still has the potential to give children (and their parents) nightmares.

In an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world, Auggie's parents made the decision to home-school him, but have now decided that he is old enough to venture out and learn at a real school - Beecher Prep.

With his parents, older sister Via, dog Daisy, and the Middle School principal Mr Tushman, acting as his personal support team, Auggie finds the courage to attend his first ever school year - an experience unlike any other. Although he enjoys the scholarly aspects of the school, he finds discomfort in the constant stares and whispers he encounters from his peers. Even his teachers, who mean well and know better than to discriminate, can't hide their shock when they first see him. Through Auggie's eyes, we experience his discomfort, and the sense of anxiety he experiences at being so obviously different from everybody else.

Of course, not everyone treats him in the same way - while there are always going to be bullies (like the obnoxious Julian), Auggie also makes some good friends in Jack and Summer, who remain by his side through most of his ordeals, and show the meaning of true friendship.

Towards the end of the novel, after a particularly terrifying moment for Auggie, we are able to see that most people do have kindness in their hearts (even if it is hidden deep within) and are happy to defend and protect those less fortunate than themselves. This is especially true of some of Auggie's classmates, who rally behind him when he least expects it.

This novel is told from the perspective of Auggie, as well as several of the kids closest to him, which gives us an idea of how each of the characters feel in their interactions with Auggie and his deformity. It's interesting to see how some of their opinions of him change over time, as they get to know the person underneath. It's also quite fascinating to see how some of them emotionally grow as they encounter prejudice at the hands of bullies or the ignorant - simply for being friends with someone who is different - and how they deal with the dilemmas that they face.

This is a fantastic coming-of-age story that deals with themes of prejudice, mistreatment, ignorance and friendship. All of the characters that narrate the story are relatable (even if they are only 10 or 15 years old), and they bring a more realistic dimension to the novel; rather than seeing the story from a 'victim' perspective, we are able to see everyone's responses to an event.

But do not think that this novel is all doom and gloom - this is actually a very entertaining story and the characters are funny, warm and engaging. Auggie has a brilliant sense of humour, despite his misfortunes, and this comes across quite clearly through the author's writing.

Wonder is aimed at late tweens to early teens, but I think it's a great read for all ages - the messages that it teaches go across the board, and are suitable for all age levels.
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