August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances? (Summary from publisher, via GoodReads.)
There is a lot to like about Wonder and I definitely think it will have high appeal among kids and teachers and it's a book that will start a lot of important discussions. This is a book that's especially important for schools and would make a great classroom readaloud.
Auggie's a relateable character whose rather objective view of himself is evidence of maturity beyond his years. You've got to grow up quick when you're facing everyone's reactions to your face every day. But Auggie also seems younger than his years in some ways. He's been kept at home, sheltered and taken care of, partly for medical reasons (he's had many more surgeries than birthdays) and partly to shield him from the outside world's reactions to him.
Kids will immediately identify with Auggie and they'll be rooting for him. Even if young readers don't have the same health and appearance difficulties that Auggie has, many of them can identify with being the new kid at school or just feeling different for any number of reasons. Auggie can't hide his difference, and he faces the challenge of starting school with an inspiring amount of courage.
The pacing was a little off for me. I thought the middle part was spot-on with how the plot progressed through Auggie's fifth grade year and multiple narrators showed us how Auggie is perceived to different sections of the community. But the book starts slowly and takes too long to wrap itself up. The overly sentimental ending bothered me a bit in a book that's purportedly about "just an ordinary kid". It just felt a bit twee.
I had some problems with the multiple points of view, as well. I appreciated seeing Auggie through different sets of eyes and the different narrators did give a sense of how Auggie fits into the community as a whole. But some of the narrators pop in so briefly that it almost felt like cheating, like an easier way of getting across a point that could have been shown without getting inside a different person's head for just a few chapters. The voices didn't sound that different and if we're going to go ahead and have EIGHT different narrators, I would have loved to see inside our main bully Julian's head.
R.J. Palacio's trying to cover a lot of ground here: not just Auggie's story, but his older sister's struggle with starting high school, best friends growing apart, and more. It feels like a lot to process, but all threads tie back to Auggie's story.
All that said, this is a strong debut and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a little Schneider Family Book Award action for this title next January. I will definitely be looking for more from R.J. Palacio.
Check out Mr. Sharp's interview with R.J. Palacio (which, incidentally, addresses why he didn't write a section from Julian's point of view).
Wonder is on shelves now!