‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio
Wonder is a book that has been very hard for me to review. With most books, it is possible to put it down, close the pages and walk away with a strong opinion on whether you, the reader, liked it enough to recommend it to a friend or, well, maybe even write a review on it. Perhaps if it is a really bad book then the reader will simply think “meh” and never think about it again. Wonder is not either of these books.
Wonder is a story about August who suffers from an extremely rare facial genetic condition, so rare in fact that it does not even have a name, but August does say that “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse”. He has been home schooled his whole life when his Mum decides that it is time for him to enter education at a local school. From there the book switches narrators multiple times and it is here that the writer makes her first mistake. The reader never hears from Julian who bullies August throughout the book; we here instead from characters like Justin (August’s sister’s boyfriend) who offers very little to the overall story. The only tease we get about Julian is that his parents are to blame for his behaviour and without the development of his character through a chapter from his perspective, this seems like a very clichéd reason.
If you are going to write a story that switches perspectives then it is important that each one offers something new. That being said, one of the highlights of the book for me was hearing August’s sister talk about her thoughts on August and her high school issues which was an interesting sub-plot in the story and a welcome break from what had previously been a story solely told by August. While the story switches narrator many times the majority of the story is told from August and for the most part he comes across as a funny and likeable 10 year old who deals with his condition in a realistic and down to earth manner. There are times however that he can be annoying, as all 10 year olds can be, and it is a relief to hear from someone else in the book.
The main plot of the book is how August deals with High School, how he makes friends, how other people act around him and his relationship with his best friend Jack which, at one point, is too easily resolved but is perhaps more a reflection on how 10 year olds act than on the writer’s storytelling. There are plenty of emotional moments throughout that will surely bring parents to tears, but maybe not a cold hearted teenage boy. It is these bits which will stick in the memory after the book has been closed and put back on the bookshelf and it is important that the story pulls off these moments well because the story itself would not work without them. Wonder is a book that relies on the importance of its message and themes, the story itself is simple and has been told many times before and likely to have been experienced by anyone who has been through school and felt that the world was against them.
So why was this review so hard to write? In order to review this book I had to separate my thoughts about the story and the message because the story itself is nothing special, it is the message of tolerance and how we should behave around those different to ourselves which elevates this book from its peers and why anyone who is a parent or going through school should read it. This is the book you’re looking for.
Reviewed by T.S.