Friday, 2 March 2012

Review: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Summary (from Goodreads): 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?
R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

Review: I had heard so many positive things about Wonder before I read it, and I'm always a little nervous around books that receive so much praise because I'm anxious that they'll never live up to the expectations I have for them. Wonder, however, was everything that I heard it was, and more. It blew me away.

The story is told from six different points of view: Those of Auggie, his sister Via, his friends Summer and Jack, and Via's boyfriend Justin, before going back to Auggie's perspective again at the end of the story.  As a general rule, I'm a huge fan of books which switch narratives, but alas I often end up finding that all the perspectives tend to sound the same. However, Wonder was totally refreshing in this respect.   I should have been disinterested when the focus shifted away from the protagonist if it was any other book, but I wasn't- each character's voice was completely their own, and each had their own story to tell, so it was engaging from start to finish.  I thought it was a very effective way of telling the story, with everything revealed from all sides by people from all walks of life.  Via was one of my favourite characters (if not my favourite) and the section from her point of view was just flawless.  I wanted nothing more than to just give her a big hug, but also take my hat off to her for persevering so much, for being so brave, and for all the things that she does and sacrifices for Auggie's sake, because she understands that in many ways she has it so much easier.   

Auggie, though, was also one of the most entirely convincing characters I've come across in a novel for the longest time.  Palacio really captures him perfectly.  He is such an ordinary ten-year-old from the moment he starts talking, yet the way in which he conveys that is so haunting from the very first paragraph- "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."  He talks about this so casually, as if it were really nothing at all, and I wanted to give him a hug right there before I knew anything else about him. For the next 313 pages I was crying and laughing and smiling along with him. You can't not, I don't think, he reads so realistically.

When I think about it, there wasn't much of a structured plot, and if it was there then it wasn't very strong. But I think part of the benefit from the book shifting to the perspectives of some of the secondary characters kept it from being as weak as it perhaps would have been if it had only been Auggie narrating, because there were always little stories within the story relating to their everyday lives, thoughts and feelings.  It's very much a character-driven story rather than one driven by action, but it kind of works here.  However, The ending was something I had a slight issue with; I thought it was a little overly sentimental. Saying that makes me feel kind of conflicted, because on one hand I feel like it's what Auggie and the rest of the characters deserved- yet it read as rather too good to be true  (conversely, I feel like Daisy dying was unnecessary, didn't add anything to the plot and was just perhaps there to get more tears out of the reader).

Still.  I suppose those issues are really kind of small, and this book really shouldn't be put aside because of them. Everyone should read it, and I also imagine that it would be a good book for discussion in places like book clubs. It's not to be missed.

In Three Words: bittersweet, thought-provoking, hopeful.
Recommended for: both children and adults alike.
Rating: 4.5

Thank you to Random House Children's Books for sending me a copy for review.