August is just an ordinary ten year old kid. He likes Star Wars, playing with his dog, and eating ice cream. The trouble is that no one else realizes how ordinary he is. All they can see are the “craniofacial anamolies” that make his face look so different from everyone else’s. Some people, like his sister Via, see him as a fragile person who needs protection and support. Others see him as a freak to stare at or make fun of. When August’s parents decide the time has come for him to go to a regular school, he knows that it will be the most challenging experience of his already trying life.
I hesitate to oversimplify Wonder by saying it is a book “about” bullying, but it is refreshing to read a story where bullying features prominently that is still incredibly uplifting and inspiring. Perhaps that is why Wonder does not seem to be “about” bullying at all. Instead it is about friendship, understanding, and the building of a community. By sharing August’s first year at middle school from the point of view of August, his sister, and his classmates, Palacio subtly crafts a story of the transformation of an entire community. We see the emotional journey of each character as they deal with the challenges of middle school and high school–some of which are related to August’s presence in their lives and others which are not. Palacio shows us the balance in the Beecher Prep community; while August’s physical deformity creates challenges for him, classmates struggle with school, family, friendships, and relationships. By the end of the novel, we come to understand that Auggie’s challenges, though unique, are not extraordinary. As he says at the start, he is an ordinary kid, with human strengths and weaknesses, struggling to fit in–just like his classmates. But the community of understanding, kindness, and hope that he and his friends and family build around him is truly a wonder.
The attention this novel is receiving is well deserved. I highly recommend it to kids, teens, and grown ups! If you liked Wonder, you might like Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine and Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.