Reviewed in the United States on January 14, 2018
I read this book because my daughter was reading it for school. Not long into it, I realized I was reading a masterpiece, one of the finest books I had read of any kind for some time.
One mark of a true classic is that it seems somehow like it always must have existed, in precisely the form that one encounters it. That's the way I felt while reading this -- it read so easily, almost inevitably, as though somehow the story arose from some universal shared unconscious.
Wonder is the story of Auggie Pullman, who suffers from manibulofacial dysostosis, a rare condition of abnormality in the bone development of his face. The story begins with his family's efforts to finally shift him from home schooling to a real middle school, which to date he has been prevented from attending on account of his time spent recovering from various surgeries. The tale is told through various perspectives starting with Auggie's, who shares with us how he has had to become accustomed to the look of shock that comes over even kind people's faces when they first see him. The parents are naturally anxious about how he will be received by the other students, and wonder whether he will be able to experience true friendship.
Wonder is a brisk, accessible read because it is presented in the form of the thoughts of the characters, with no extended, meandering narration to wade through. A couple of aspects struck me as making it an especially remarkable book.
One is how the book doesn't dwell solely on Auggie's struggle alone. Of course Auggie has the roughest time of it. But it's of course also very rough for his parents for obvious reasons, and also on his sister, for the perhaps less obvious reason that she has had to receive less of her parents' attention than she otherwise would, due to Auggie's needs. She finds herself in the awkward situation of many of her own needs not being fully met, and feeling the reality of that, but also not feeling that she is entitled to resent it.
Another aspect that makes this book a treasure is how much one can't help but love several of the characters. Auggie's drawn an unlucky hand in life, but he's also been dealt some advantages: he is a smart, capable student, and has a sharp sense of humor that delights those who bother to get to know him. He also is lucky for some of the remarkable people around him: his parents, his sister Via, the remarkable middle school director Mr. Tushman, his English teacher Mr. Browne, Via's friend Miranda who adores Auggie, and two wonderful friends from school, Summer and Jack Will. Jack Will in particular grabbed my heart - a boy of modest means amid more affluent classmates, who suffers socially for his friendship with Auggie. Sometimes the book seems to depict an almost unrealistically good world, in that the fortitude of so many brave, kind people overcomes the hostile social forces surrounding Auggie. Realistic or not, it's certainly a compelling world.
Finally, the book is filled with moments of wonderful insight. Jack Will's mother is sacrificing enormously to send him to an expensive school, but the only thing that seems to truly trouble her is when she fears for a moment her children would be less than kind to someone else. Via helps Auggie to understand that, however great his challenge, he cannot live a truly fulfilling life until he realizes that other people too have problems that, if not as great as his, are nevertheless worth his compassion. Mr. Browne presents words to live by that are for the reader's benefit as much as Auggie's. And I so wish every school could have a Mr. Tushman as its head. He shrewdly understands the dynamics surrounding Auggie, and applies a subtle, yet powerful loving hand in helping Auggie triumph over adversity.
Wonder is a book that, once read, will never leave your heart and memory.