Congratulations to Clara Gillow Clark who was over-the-top excited to win Darcy Pattison's book, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel.
******I am late to the party celebrating WONDER’s impact on the literary world. I’d heard of the book but didn’t cross paths with it until I received a copy at last year's mid-year SCBWI-Florida conference. It was unopened on my “To Be Read” shelf until I saw it on a list of recommended books about bullying. Since that is the topic of the spring issue of Talking Story coming out this week, I decided it was time to finally read it.
I’m not sure what I am more impressed with: R. J. Palacio’s blunt portrayal of a courageous young boy, August, with extreme facial deformities; her spot-on ability to show the eight different point-of-view perspectives on August (including his own); or, the additional ending, “The Julian Chapter” which Palacio added two years after publication giving the back story behind Julian’s bullying August. All are equally superb.
Born with mandibulofacial dysostosis (also known as Treacher Collins syndrome) August had twenty-seven operations to try and repair his facial deformities. You get a glimpse of his strength of character on the first page:
I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go.....I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse. (p.3)After being homeschooled, his family decides that it is time for him to enter school. Although he's used to being stared at, after his first day he breaks down:
"Why do I have to be so ugly, Mommy?" I whispered.
"No, baby, you're not...."
"I know I am."
She kissed me all over my face. She kissed my eyes that came down too far. She kissed my cheeks that looked punched in. She kissed my tortoise mouth. She said soft words that I know were meant to help me, but words can't change my face. (p. 60)Normally Halloween was August's favorite holiday since he could hide his face and blend in with other trick-or-treaters. But hidden in his costume he overhears a conversation between his one friend, Jack, and Julian, the leader of the popular crowd. He is crushed when Jack says, "if I looked like him, seriously, I think that I'd kill myself." (p.77)
Each change in point of view begins with backstory showing how the secondary character knows August. Using this device, R. J. Palacio not only shows how August impacts other people's lives, but creates a more complete story. August's POV weaves in and out if the other characters' accounts.
The second section is from Olivia, August's older sister, POV. It is obvious that Via loves her little brother but as she enters high school, she has her own set of problems to deal with: a broken friendship with her best friend; miscommunication with her mother who always puts August first; and generally figuring out where she fits in.
Plus, there is the added stress of knowing she carries the mutant gene which is the partial cause of August's deformity. But Via shines through as a truth speaker in August's life. When August decides not to return to school after the Halloween incident with Jack, she confronts him. "Now unless you want to be treated like a baby the rest of your life, or like a kid with special needs, you just have to suck it up and go." (p. 115) Her tough love works, and despite his fears and misgivings, August returns to school.
The third point of view is Summer, a girl in August's class who befriends him for no other reason than she wants to. Initially she feels sorry for him, but eventually she concludes he's funny. She gets up her courage to ask him about his face and he answers:
"The main thing I have is this thing called man-di-bu-lo-facial-dys-os-tosis--which took me forever to learn how to pronounce, by the way. But I also have this other syndrome thing that I can't even pronounce. And this things kind of just morphed together into one big superthing, which is so rare they don't even have a name for it. I mean, I don't want to brag or anything, but I'm actually considered a medical wonder, you know."
That was a joke," he said. "You can laugh."
I smiled and shook my head.
"You're funny, Auggie," I said
"Yes, I am," he said proudly. "I am cool beans." (p. 129-30)The fourth POV belongs to Jack. Readers get a glimpse into his initial motivation for becoming August's friend, how he ends up enjoying him ["he laughs at all my jokes,...I can tell August anything...if all the guys in the fifth grade were lined up against a wall and I got to choose anyone I wanted to hang out with, I would choose August" (p. 143)], why he lets Auggie down, and then how he comes to his defense and they are re-united as friends. I was touched by how Palacio authentically portrayed the boys' friendship and conflicts. August is the target of more bullying from Julian after Christmas break, but this time Jack is on his side and they weather it together.
The next POV is from Justin, Via's boyfriend. A shorter section, but poignant. Justin's parents are divorced and he sees Via and August's family in a totally different light.
for as long as I can remember, i've felt like my parents could hardly wait for me to be old enough to care of myself. "you can go to the store by yourself." "here's the key to the apartment." it's funny how there's a world like overprotective to describe some parents, but no word that means the opposite. what word do you use to describe parents who don't protect enough? underprotective? neglectful? self-involved? lame? all of the above?
olivia's family tell each other "i love you" all the time.
i can't remember the last time anyone in my family said that to me.
by the time I go home, my tics have all stopped. (p. 192)Miranda, Via's best friend, provides a different outsider's perspective on Via and August in the sixth POV.
Without giving a spoiler, circumstances shift during the spring and Julian finds himself on the outside rather than being the kid everyone wants to be friends with. August experiences a triumphant close to his first year in public school and with that, the original text ended. But two years later R. J. Palacio added The Julian Chapter which shows why Julian was mean to August. He spends a vacation with his grand-mere in France, hears her family secret, experiences remorse over his attitude towards August, and apologizes to him.
Including this last section is a stroke of genius. Every bully has a back story: pain in his or her life which leads to picking on others. WONDER is a triumphant story of a young boy who is courageous in the face of his deformity. It is also a story about taking responsibility for oneself and forgiveness.
I am giving away my copy of the updated version of WONDER through the spring issue of Talking Story. Leave a comment here and I'll enter your name once. If you are interested in subscribing to the quarterly newsletter which Joyce Hostetter and I publish, leave your email address and I'll send you the link to the newsletter. Leave a message through the newsletter and your name will be entered twice. If you are new to this blog, PLEASE leave me your contact information in case you win. Winner will be drawn on March 21.