Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Wonder: R.J. Palacio, February 15—17, 2016
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
August is a regular boy with an irregular face. Due to the amount of surgery he needed in early childhood, Auggie was home-schooled. His transition to a regular school affects a number of people, and this is their story.
Wonder is told from multiple characters’ viewpoints, including August, his sister, his new best friend and several supporting characters. Much of the plot centres around the dynamics between the characters, and the way they change over the course of the year.
Palacio does a good job of getting inside each character’s head. Because each narrator has one extended contribution each (except August, who has three) the empathy builds and each perspective seems entirely reasonable. When a new character picks up the story, they briefly recap the preceding events from their point of view before moving it on. Palacio is very selective in what is revisited, so it’s never repetitive. While there is character development aplenty, they all speak very similarly and the plot is quite predictable.
It’s a clever book. August looks different from other kids, and it’s very plain to see how that impacts him. But the more subtle impacts of his sister Via – known by her peers as the sister of the disfigured boy – or his new friend Jack – ostracized by those wary of August – is interesting. Is it so bad to want to be known for being yourself? Is it so bad to want the friendships that are only lost by association? These themes could so easily have been patronising, but Palacio is honest enough in her approach to include shades of grey. The principle antagonist does not have a point of view chapter, though Palacio released it in a new edition in 2014.
Spread across a full term, it’s not slow but neither is Wonder a page-turner. Rather, it rumbles along at a steady pace. Quite a lot about this book is ‘steady’, and the focuses are quite narrow. If it was a BBC production, it would be leaning more heavily on ‘inform and educate’, and less on ‘entertain’.
August is endearing, and it’s hard not to root for him. Wonder doesn’t shy away from difficult issues, and gets its message across effectively. Perhaps it’s what Palacio wanted, but it’s the message that will remain with you, while much of the actual story will be very quickly forgotten.