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Wonder Hardcover – February 14, 2012
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From the Publisher
Amazon Best Books of the Month for Kids, February 2012: Wonder is a rare gem of a novel--beautifully written and populated by characters who linger in your memory and heart. August Pullman is a 10-year-old boy who likes Star Wars and Xbox, ordinary except for his jarring facial anomalies. Homeschooled all his life, August heads to public school for fifth grade and he is not the only one changed by the experience--something we learn about first-hand through the narratives of those who orbit his world. August’s internal dialogue and interactions with students and family ring true, and though remarkably courageous he comes across as a sweet, funny boy who wants the same things others want: friendship, understanding, and the freedom to be himself. “It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” From The Little Prince and R.J. Palacio’s remarkable novel, Wonder.--Seira Wilson
#1 New York Times bestseller
A School Library Journal Best of Children's Books
A Publishers Weekly Best of Children's Books
A Kirkus Reviews Best of Children's Books
A Booklist Best of Children's Books
"Wonder is essentially ... a wonder. It's well-written, engaging, and so much fun to read that the pages almost turn themselves. More than that, Wonder touches the heart in the most life-affirming, unexpected ways, delivering in August Pullman a character whom readers will remember forever. Do yourself a favor and read this book – your life will be better for it." - Nicholas Sparks, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"Wonder is the best kids' book of the year."
"In a wonder of a debut, Palacio has written a crackling page-turner filled with characters you can't help but root for."
The New York Times:
"Rich and memorable...It's Auggie and the rest of the children who are the real heart of 'Wonder,' and Palacio captures the voices of girls and boys, fifth graders and teenagers, with equal skill."
The Wall Street Journal:
"What makes R.J. Palacio's debut novel so remarkable, and so lovely, is the uncommon generosity with which she tells Auggie's story…The result is a beautiful, funny and sometimes sob-making story of quiet transformation.”
The Huffington Post:
"It's in the bigger themes that Palacio's writing shines. This book is a glorious exploration of the nature of friendship, tenacity, fear, and most importantly, kindness."
"Full of heart, full of truth, Wonder is a book about seeing the beauty that's all around us. I dare you not to fall in love with Auggie Pullman."
- Rebecca Stead, Newbery award-winning author of When You Reach Me
"It is the deceptive simplicity and honesty of the work that make Wonder so memorable. Every single character seems real and well drawn and oh-so human...This book is beautiful." - Christopher Paul Curtis, Newbery award-winning author of Bud, Not Buddy
"A beautiful story of kindness and courage. There are many real and well-developed characters, and they each have their shining moments. Of course, Auggie shines the brightest." - Clare Vanderpool, Newbery award-winning author of Moon Over Manifest
"Wonder is a beautifully told story about heartache, love, and the value of human life. One comes away from it wanting to be a better person." - Patricia Reilly Giff, two-time Newbery honor-winning author of Lily's Crossing and Pictures of Hollis Woods
"Wonder is a shining jewel of a story that cannot help but encourage readers of all ages to do better, to be better, in how they treat others in life. I'm totally in love with this novel." - Trudy Ludwig, anti-bullying advocate and author of My Secret Bully, Confessions of a Former Bully, Better Than You, and Just Kidding
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly:
“Few first novels pack more of a punch: it's a rare story with the power to open eyes--and hearts--to what it's like to be singled out for a difference you can't control, when all you want is to be just another face in the crowd.”
Starred Review, Booklist:
“Palacio makes it feel not only effortless but downright graceful, and by the stand-up-and-cheer conclusion, readers will be doing just that, and feeling as if they are part of this troubled but ultimately warm-hearted community.”
Starred Review, School Library Journal:
"Palacio has an exceptional knack for writing realistic conversation and describing the thoughts and emotions of the characters...A well-written, thought-provoking book."
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews:
“A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder.”
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In the book, August's mother, who is his homeschooling teacher, decides that it is a good idea for Auggie to attend groupschooling, rather than continue the homeschooling he has so far done. Huge mistake! Group schooling is a fake, superficial environment that is not found anywhere else. Never again in life, with the exception of boot camp perhaps, another equally artificial situation, will large numbers of human beings of exactly the same age be placed in direct, relentless competition with one another. Even in college, there are older students and atypical students. And the very LAST thing a facially-challenged child or any unusual child needs is direct, relentless competition. In fact, groupschooling is detrimental to even so-called "normal" kids. Only a few become "winners" in this hypercompetitive situation. Most become "losers" and inevitably give up early, with permanent, lifelong, detrimental consequences. I've met many 50 to 60-year-olds with profound regrets over their wasted school years half a century ago. By age 14, most kids have mentally/emotionally "abandoned" school, even if they are still present physically. This is why half the population is now functionally illiterate, reading at best at a 6th grade level. Half the US population couldn't read this critique even if they wanted to.....That is so sad.... Sometimes I wonder why parents throw their young, enthousiastic, energetic children into such a pressure-cooker during the most tender, vulnerable period in these young human beings' entire lives? The exact time in life we are least able to handle hypercompetitiveness is the time we are drowning in it. The only answer I can come up with is that we humans tend to recreate our childhoods endlessly, passing on our dysfunction to the next generation, creating another cohort of people using addictions to medicate their childhood pain. Our parents create another generation of drinkers, druggers, overeaters, sex addicts, TV/computer addicts, gamblers, workaholics, hypochondriacs, etc., etc., etc. I wonder what Auggie would be like at age 50, under the burden of years of stress and pressure and trauma. We forget, but life is truly a marathon, after all.....
In addition to the negative hypercompetitiveness, the "socialization" in groupschooling situations is nearly 100% negative. Personally, I don't know what benefit parents see in all the negative socialization. Perhaps they have forgotten the pain of their own school years. Even the few popular "winners" in groupschool situations agonize over one zit or one misstep, wondering if they will be toppled from their high social perch among the "in" group as a result. Cliques, in/out groups, bullying, ostracizing, gossiping, fighting, sex, drugs, alcohol, you name it, it's all there and it's all negative. Yet many well-meaning but deluded parents, such as Auggie's, continue to subject their kids to this torture. The author, RJ Palacio, does a reasonably good job of describing the negatives here, but misses the very obvious solution: a return to homeschooling! That would be a good idea for his sister, Olivia, too. Even Auggie mentions he had more free time as a homeschooler. Duh.....Group situations are always timewasters.... He who learns alone learns the fastest. Groupschooling holds most back because everyone waits for the last or the slowest. With individual schooling, everyone proceeds very efficiently at their own pace. Trauma and stress are cumulative, and even more dangerous when they start in early childhood. Children are NOT resilient. We each only have a certain quota of trauma we can handle before we fall apart into dysfunctional behaviors such as acting out, addictions, or mental illness to self-medicate our emotional pain. Just ask any 50-year-old smoker, drinker, or overeater when they started their acting out and why. The answer usually goes back to childhood trauma. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study proved that conclusively. Auggie is facing a lifetime of increased stress and trauma due to his facial anomaly. Why pile more on than is necessary at age 10? By age 50, he may be maxxed out and may fall apart.
Groupschooling situations are dangerous. Kids do get murdered in groupschools, especially the larger ones. Auggie could very easily have been badly injured or even accidentally killed that night at the campout. Sort of like a Piggy situation in "Lord of the Flies." Even nice schoolkids can temporarily become the equivalent of Nazi prison guards with strong enough peer pressure. What were the adults in this book possibly thinking of, when they placed Auggie in such a precarious position? As a child, I always thought adults were often out to lunch, and they sure were in this book! Only Auggie's dad had a small amount of common sense, when he felt that groupschooling for Auggie was like "leading a lamb to slaughter...." Too bad he didn't stick to his initial gut reaction, which was correct. I think our future alternative to groupschools will be the return of the one-room schoolhouse. Groupschools are too large, too complex, and too expensive for bankrupt countries such as ours to maintain much longer, anyhow. And there will be no money for transportation to such overly distant schools. The one-room schoolhouse was the foundation of this country. They were economical to maintain and transportation was not a problem. The kids got exercise walking to and from school, so they were happy to sit still and learn once they got there. The focus remained on academics and wasn't diluted by sports or cliques or whatever. One-room schoolhouses foster minimal competition because all ages and abilities are mixed together. The socialization will be more positive, for the most part, because students learn to cooperate together, with the older students helping the younger ones and the faster ones helping the slower ones. It's much harder to have a clique in a one-room schoolhouse if there isn't anyone to have a clique with!
How am I able to critique this book so forcefully? Because I was personally in the equivalent of Auggie's situation. At age ten, Auggie's age, I was just starting not my 1st, but my 4th new school. Imagine being a new girl four times by 5th grade and how hard that is..... Like Auggie, I was "physically challenged" and looked different from everyone else in my class. But I was also of a minority ethnic background and minority religion. I came from "the wrong side of the tracks," and was, fortunately and unfortunately, the most intelligent student in my class. Believe me, all of that together was a prescription for total social failure. I never had a "Summer" or a "Jack Will" in my life. In real life, I don't think they exist--or if they do, very, very rarely, and not something one can count on. I ended up eating lunch with the "special ed" kids as we called them back then. The "special ed" kids were developmentally disabled, and didn't move away like other kids did when I sat down at a lunch table. Summer and Jack give a fake sense of warmheartedness to the book, but in real life, when push comes to shove, peer pressure will be too much for them and they'll side with the Nazi camp guards like Julian. It takes a huge amount of courage and the ability to resist extreme peer pressure for kids like Summer and Jack to associate with a class outcast. They run the risk of jeopardizing their own precarious social position in the class pecking order by befriending a "freak" like Auggie. Most kids, if not nearly all, don't have the courage. Even my own cousins pretended they didn't know me in school. And I can't blame any of them, by the way. I don't know what I would do in their exact situation, but I do know that in 3rd grade when I and one other girl, who was quite obese, and one other boy, who was mildly developmentally disabled, were the only ones in our classroom who didn't have any valentines in our valentine bags, I didn't send any to them and they didn't send any to me. None of us outcasts could afford to befriend each other. If we did, it would clearly cement our class status at the bottom of the barrel for all to see. This way we could each pretend our bottom-feeder position in the class pecking order was a little nebulous. The one thing I do regret to this day, almost 50 years later, was that I didn't think to send those two and myself a couple of anonymous valentines "from your secret pal," so that the three of us would not have had to pretend to open up valentines during the class party, when everyone else opened up their real ones. During that veeeery loooong party, I simply pretended I had valentines in my bag by reaching in to "check." I pretended I was opening them slowly about 10 times or more. And why couldn't our teacher have checked whose valentine bag was empty, like I did, and stick a few cards in each empty bag herself? Why couldn't my mother have told me to stick an anonymous valentine in those other 2 bags and my own? Did they both forget their own schooldays when the number of valentines received was a concrete measure of one's popularity? I was a zero, nada, zip. Along with the other two misfits. It would have been a kindness to stick in an anonymous card or two, a kindness I figured out too late to help those other 2 kids and myself. But in third grade, I was only 8 years old. I had an excuse. The adults didn't. As I say, adults are clueless.
By the way, no parent with any common sense would give a boy who looks like Auggie a name like "August." Appearance-challenged kids draw too much negative attention to themselves as it is, and we don't need additional extraneous attention from an unusual name, or from anything else that is nonessential, that is for sure. For the most part, we want to "pass" invisible. Tom or Andy would make much better names, even though I personally think that "Auggie" is quite cute! What might work better is a name like "Thomas August Pullman." And when Auggie is comfortable in his own skin, then he himself decides to go from "Tom" to "Auggie" if HE wishes. But the choice should be HIS! And I never had another kid go to bat for me like Jack did punching Julian out after Julian called Auggie a freak. In fact, "freak" was my nickname in high school. Everyone called me that behind my back, although thankfully not too often to my face. I learned to suck all that up, but I deal with some of that childhood pain, even today, of course, even with counseling and recovery.... If one is in a groupschooling situation with no other options, as I was since homeschooling didn't exist back then for me, then the only way out is through. So, I knew I had to suck all that up.... A 12-year long gauntlet of groupschooling to run.... Rather than Amos and Miles and Henry coming to Auggie's rescue, in my school experience, the opposite would have occurred. With very rare exception, everyone would have joined the Nazi camp guard ringleader. Again, the book isn't that realistic, in my experience. And my family of origin had their own share of dysfunction, so my parents were not in any way as supportive of me as Auggie's were to him in the book. Most parents aren't that supportive, as evidenced by the large number of Chinese babies with birth defects abandoned in Chinese orphanages. If we're defective and our parents can get away with dumping us, they sometimes will. This is not a condemnation, just a fact. And my older brother, much more so than Via, was jealous of the extra attention I got and my, unfortunately, failed surgeries. Like Via, my parents did not give my older brother enough attention; and as a result, he and I still have a conflicted, tempestuous relationship, now going on for 56 years. My older brother would never come to my rescue in school or anywhere else. In fact, he was one of my persecutors. My father was moderately abusive, especially emotionally, to my older brother, so my older brother passed that trauma on to me by persecuting me, understandably. What we don't give back, we pass on. Notice to parents: do not neglect your healthy children, or you will create lifelong enmity between siblings. Do not show any kind of favoritism to your children, or you will guarantee discord between siblings long after you are gone, discord that is usually lifelong. Get counseling and get into recovery so you don't pass our dysfunction down to your children.
Nowadays, it is well known that children with differences should have a "show `n tell" by way of introduction to a new setting, but the author Palacio apparently isn't aware of that. Poor Auggie should NEVER have been thrown into a new school with 500 kids and no introduction. His sister Via should also have a brief "show `n tell" about her brother whenever it is appropriate, such as when she didn't want Auggie to be seen by any of her classmates at her new school. One way to do that, if the clueless parents insist on groupschooling, would be to show a couple photos of Auggie in each homeroom, and maybe add one with his dog, to personalize him. There should be a brief explanation of what he has medically, ie, something similar to Treacher-Collins Syndrome, mention the 27 surgeries and painful convalescences, and emphasize that this doesn't hurt, at least for the most part, and most especially, isn't contagious. Everybody, including all the teachers, should get a good, LONG, closeup look at Auggie's face ahead of time, so there will be minimal shock and panic when they finally see him in person on the SECOND day of school. No way should the irresponsible adults in this situation have allowed a ten-year-old child to be so traumatized as Auggie was, facing 500 new peers all ALONE by himself in the book. My mother would sometimes do that same crap to me, forcing me to do things that she herself would be too embarrassed to do. \
It is human nature to stare at the unusual because it is part of our instinct for self-preservation. If a saber-toothed tiger jumped through our door right now, we better take a quick, piercing stare at it and then run away in a panic or get ready to do battle if we don't want to get eaten alive. With people like Auggie and myself, once the initial shock is over, and people find out that what we have isn't contagious, then they settle down quicker, and we don't have to take so many panicky stares, look-aways, header-benders, dropped open mouths, etc. AboutFace [...] recommends the Explain-Reassure-Distract technique to be used when meeting new people. Auggie should be taught to Explain he has a birth defect similar to Treacher-Collins syndrome, to Reassure others that it isn't contagious, and to Distract them by changing the subject to the class project, the latest movie, whatever, if/when he is tired of talking about his face. The Treacher-Collins support group, [...] will have lots of good, coping ideas, too. I also recommend carrying "business" cards, which explain one's unique situation in a few simple terms, when one is not in the mood to provide endless explanations to other people about one's situation. There are almost 7 billion humans on earth, and one simply can't spend one's entire life educating them all on one particular situation, so quickly handing out an explanatory card is often helpful. And unlike Auggie, I didn't get any awards in school. In fact, just the opposite happened. I remember two classmates telling me in 8th grade that they thought the principal gave me much harder words than anyone else in the spelling bee on purpose. Of course, I flubbed up and was out, which is what the Principal wanted. He probably didn't want the nerdy "freak" representing HIS school! At least, that was my conjecture, not being inside his head.
In my opinion, Via should never have been allowed to have a boyfriend so early, at age 15. As a minimum, she should have been told to be much more discreet, avoiding long kisses in public, etc. No one should be having long kisses in public anyway.... Those PDA's are just a form of bragging and one-upping others, mostly her brother and girlfriends.... And why were her parents letting her boyfriend spend time with her in her BEDROOM? Do they want her to have a baby or get an STD by age 16??? I hope she has had her HPV vaccine! Via's mom is worried about her taking the subway alone at age 15, but not about her spending time alone in her bedroom with her boyfriend! Crazy, I know.... Obviously, parents have no common sense nowadays. Their JOB is to set reasonable limits. Such as no dating before age 17. And NEVER a boy in her bedroom... So these parents flubbed up badly. Relations between the sexes are always conflicted and stressful, even at best, so why not stay relationally sober until age 17-18 or even longer? I didn't start dating until I was 19, and now, I am glad I waited. So many people my age in their 50-60's have 3-4 ex-husbands or ex-wives, and I only have one ex-husband plus a couple ex-boyfriends. So delaying participation in the relationship wars turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Why start the high of a new boyfriend coupled with the near-inevitable low of breaking up later on at such a young age? Why climb on that gerbil wheel so early? And imagine how poor Auggie might feel, she so beautiful with such a handsome "cool" boyfriend while Auggie is, in real life, being ostracized, bullied, and with just about nil chances for a girlfriend at that stage of life. Later on, yes, but then, no. The longer that kind of sibling rivalry is delayed, the better. My brothers were nerdy for different reasons from mine, so they didn't have girlfriends and the issue never arose for me. And I didn't have a sister, for which I am very, very thankful.
Another thing that bugs me about this book, Auggie has almost no external ears, but he does have 2 eyes, so why does the cover portray a boy with one eye, oversized, unequal ears, and a blank face? Didn't the cover illustrator Tad Carpenter even bother to read the book before doing the illustration? Maybe blank faces are "easier" for "normal" humans to deal with than real but misshapen (to others) ones like Auggie's? That is totally weird! "Normal" people are clueless! Because kids with Treacher-Collins are really quite cute, especially those teeny, little T-C ears? They are much cuter than regular ears! And that irresistible face is really quite adorable! As Confucious, a Chinese guy known by his Latin name, said, "Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it." Yet at one point in the book Auggie mentions that what he has is "worse than you can imagine," or something similar to that. Well, of course, that is total bullcrap! That's only what the author actually felt. Auggie's appearance is "normal," for him. And why does Auggie's condition remain nameless in the book? Is his condition actually so terrible it cannot be drawn on the cover or named inside the pages? Maybe only if we are still living in the Dark Ages! What is the purpose of hiding? Why the shame? There's nothing shameful here except the author's revelation of her true feelings: SHE's the one who feels that what Auggie has is too awful to name or show....SHE's the one who feels his face has to be hidden, to be blanked out... We're only as sick as our secrets, after all.... If Auggie had a Treacher-Collins variant, then why not show a cute drawing of someone similar to that? Not this blank face! Do you ever see T-C people walking around? Granted, it's a rare syndrome, but most spend a lot of time hiding at home because they get worn out dealing with human nutcases every time they take a step outside the house. This book could have helped release those people from their self-imposed prison. Others seeing them would think, "Oh, that person looks like Auggie!" What an incredible educational opportunity that was totally missed! Sad, really. And there really are children born with one eye, but they are either stillborn or die shortly after birth, as that severe level of facial/brain maldevelopment isn't compatible with life, so why illustrate it on the cover?
We human beings are fallible--all of us, including myself. No one can be depended on, 100%. We all let each other down, at one time or another, including us letting ourselves down. And for each of us, physically different or not, there is an existential aloneness. Each one of us, whether we admit it or not, is truly alone. When I realized that, I could soften my desperate desire for friends/relationships at any and all costs, overcome my co-dependence, and minimize my people-pleasing. We must realize that we cannot depend on fallible human beings to be there when we need them. Because quite often, they aren't. No need to get depressed or suicidal over something that simply is. Acceptance of what is and cannot be changed is the solution to my problems. We cannot depend on friends in foul weather. They may be there. They may not. And I am here to say that having lots of friends while growing up is not essential. I managed to survive my groupschooling torture without a single friend. Let me repeat that for the many who have no friends in school right now: You don't need friends to survive school! I survived without a single friend! Oh, a person here and there who would tolerate me for a while, thank goodness, but not one single, dependable friend from 5th grade on thru 12th that I could truly trust. Granted, I was a "new girl" again in 8th grade, 5 school changes in 12 years due to my family's dysfunction, so by 8th grade the "cliques" were set thru high school and I wasn't a part of any of them. I ended up being an outcast until I finished school. How, then, does a person survive? Surrounded by all these fallible human beings, who are sometimes there for me when the going is easy, but drop me when the going gets tough, how do I survive? Who is there to sustain me? Who can I depend on all the time, not just when things are easy? Myself. Coupled with a Power greater than myself, a Higher Power, an Intelligent Creator, a Divine Force, a Great Spirit, whatever term works for you. With a Power greater than myself and a few of my fellows now and again sent as "guardian angels," I can survive and even prosper.
All in all, this is a rather poorly written book, conveying shame about a straight-forward physical condition, unrealistically optimistic, and with way too much dependence placed on other people being there to meet our needs, which usually doesn't happen. Ok, I'll give the author an "A" for effort, and the topic an "A," as birth defects and chronic illnesses aren't often the subject of books. But it is really unfortunate that the author simply didn't have and didn't obtain the first-hand knowledge of the subject needed to write a truly helpful book for those with facial anomalies and other congenital defects. Maybe it is almost inevitable that those of us with first-hand knowledge don't publish books? Maybe writing a book is something too emotionally searing for us to do? Can you imagine a person with a facial difference dealing with all the stares while attending book signings and all the other things an author has to do to promote a book? Eeewww! It would probably be too much for us....I think.... Maybe I could do it when I was quite old..... retired, even..... Maybe not...
First Sentence: I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.
How I Acquired the Book: Borrowed from my town's library.
The Review: When I first read the synopsis of this book, my thoughts instantly turned to a friend of mine who had a facial anomaly, just like the main character, August, in this book. So I was excited to read it, to get a glimpse of what my friend's life could be like.
In that aspect, it did not disappoint. Auggie's voice is brilliant, and you can tell R.J. Palacio definitely spends a lot of time around kids. Auggie sounds just like my friend when he was in fifth grade, and is highly believable. It is this that makes the book so heartwarming and realistic. A book full of Auggie would be great.
But this book is /not/ entirely full of Auggie. The first and last 80 pages or so of it are AMAZING, definitely the best parts, because they're told from Auggie's point of view. But the rest of the book is told from different characters' points of view, like Auggie's friends and family. This just does not work. Each character gets 20 to 50 pages, and as I just was getting used to and liking their voice, BAM, the point of view changed again. In the middle of the book I found myself scanning the book to get to Auggie's part more quickly. Not only that, but the plot is lost in these parts, and these supporting characters are not well-developed.
That said, I completely respect and admire Ms. Palacio for doing something so ambitious. It may have not been the best it could be, but Wonder has absolutely raised my awareness and sympathy of people like Auggie. While this novel doesn't deserve a standing ovation, I will be waiting to see if Ms. Palacio's next novel deserves one.
-reviewed by a teenager. (I apologize for any teenagery and/or snarky comments in this review, if they have offended you. I understand they can be very annoying, just like teenagers themselves. In any case, thanks for dealing with them and thanks for reading this review.)
The sheer truth of Auggie's journey is what meant the most to me. There are so many small moments that struck me to the core - e.g. Auggie's feelings about Halloween, the way Auggie has an easier time when his classmates understand that there's more to him than his face, Auggie's struggle to move past his need for coddling, even the food that Auggie eats. The most emotional moment for me came toward the end of the book when Auggie's father tells him that he loves the way Auggie looks, because that it exactly how my husband and I feel about our son.
I wish that everyone would read this book, because it will help them understand the humanity of my son and everyone like him.
Conveniently, there is a related commercial curriculum about genetics.