Some books stay with me forever. These are the books that touch my heart, making me laugh while I have tears in my eyes, the books that teach me something deep about human longing, about my own need to be the best human being I can. Most of the time I read for the pleasure of being in a new world, for forgetting what’s bothering me in this one. But once in a while there comes a book which so innately speaks to me, that it gives me a new perspective about my life.
Last week, the children and I finished listening together to the audio version of Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Have you ever felt that sense of emptiness when a book ends? Not a second passed after the last word and my son asked: “Is there Wonder Two?” But the novel has only come out this February, and there is no hint in R. J. Palacio’s website for a sequel.
Wonder tells the story of August Pullman’s fifth grade year through the eyes of six different young people: Auggie, his friends Summer and Jack, his sister Olivia, Olivia’s boyfriend Justin, and Olivia’s friend Miranda. Each voice gives a unique and distinct perspective of Auggie’s story as he struggles to acclimate to school. Auggie has never been to school before. He was born with a terrible genetic facial deformity for which he had numerous surgeries and which had prevented him from going to school so far.
The novel begins with Auggie, and I found myself sucked into his story, weeping for his difficulties and identifying with his pain as he stumbles into the cruel and inhospitable environment of a regular school. The children avoid touching him or speaking to him, rushing to wash their hands if he accidentally brushes against them. Only two children befriend Auggie, and when one of them betrays his trust, I felt Auggie’s sorrow as though it was my own.
Then Olivia, August’s sister, started to speak, and my perception of the world changed. With no hint of emotion, Olivia detailed Auggie’s deformed face and the various genetic disorders that conspired to make him look the way he looked. Listening to her, I finally understood the shambles that were August’s face, how near he had been to death, how miraculous that he could even eat by himself. But Olivia did not show me just Auggie. She showed me herself, Olivia, the older, healthy sister who must hide who she is and what she needs because her world, inevitably, revolves around Auggie.
More and more perspectives added intricate layers of insight into this year in Auggie’s life as he grows up and matures and his world opens up before him. I laughed and cried. I held my breath. I fell in love with Auggie, Olivia and all their friends, even with Mr. Tushman the school’s principal and with Mr. Browne and his Precepts. And I loved that my children identified with Auggie so much, that for them it was not a story about a deformed kid, but the story of a kid they could love.
My favorite precept: “Just follow the day and reach for the sun.” ~ The Polyphonic Spree
Find Wonder on Goodreads.
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