So many acccolades and praises have been extolled on R.J. Palacio’s debut Wonder that I really have nothing much to add, but you know me… I have to say something as closure for myself, especially after what was such a satisfying read.
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?
I bought the book way back in 2014 after it rode on the crest of a euphoric wave of viral popularity, but I didn’t read it until I learned the movie is around the corner (it will open in sunny Singapore on 14 Dec). I don’t read a lot of teenage fiction, but being a geek who loves to compare the film with the original prose, I dived into the world of Auggie. This is one of those rare books that makes me want to stand on the world’s highest spot and announce to everyone that the next thing they should be doing is to read this.
R. J. Palacio drew inspiration from an actual moment at an ice cream shop and it was one of those moments that forces one to confront oneself. And she started writing the book that very night. She must have been wondering what it takes to face a world that doesn’t know how to face you back.
The prose is spare but buoyant, written with a deep sense of clear-eyed intelligence with a wide-eyed hope for a better world. Keenly observed with nary a false moment and brimming with so much humanity. Stories like these tend to be preachy and manipulative, and without a moment too soon the author would start pressing all the buttons. But not Palacio, Wonder seldom seeps into mawkish sentimentalism and each short chapter ends in a moment that is thought-provoking and invites you to do some self-reflection.
The story is divided into six bigger sections, each written from the perspective of a different character; a clever use of a narrative device. I have just read Paula Hawkin’s Into the Water which is practically a 101 manual of how not to use this tool. Palacio, on the other hand, uses it marvellously. Each perspective opens up the world a little bit more and tears new layers from the characters, proving once again that there are always two sides to any story.
The only part that didn’t quite sit down well with me is the last section on Julian’s perspective. I find it a little emotionally manipulative, but then again I was glad for Julian’s redemptive arc.
Wonder is essential reading, not just for teens but even for adults who have been become too jaded by what society has jackhammered into our senses day in day out. Yes, I am talking about you and me.
When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer