My name is August.
I won’t describe what I look like.
Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
Wonder is a little gem of a book. It’s the first YA book I’ve read in a while. I forgot how easy, but how pleasurable at the same time, YA novels are to read. When I buy new books, I try to jump from one genre and writer to another to keep things interesting, and this one struck me as something different from what I’ve been reading recently.
August was born with a genetic defect that severely deformed his face and left him needing countless operations throughout his life. We enter his story when he is around ten years old and his parents have decided to stop home-schooling him and send him to middle school instead. It’s a risky move, both for his parents and August himself. The world can be cruel, and kids can be even more so.
As a reader, you cannot help but love August. Immediately he wins your loyalty and I felt an overwhelming need to protect him throughout everything he does. He is genuinely very funny, incredibly smart, and so warm-hearted and thoughtful. But of course, many people within the book are not interested in learning any of this. All they see is a hideous face, belonging to someone who would only ruin their middle-school reputation if they were seen with him.
The novel is written in the point of view of many different characters, each with their own sections and chapters within the book. I think the story needed to be told this way to make it more three-dimensional. I was heavily bullied as a child, and I was never able to know what people around me thought and felt about the situation – I was just trapped in own little world of misery, humiliation and fear. And I can’t pretend to care about what the bullies thought, but understanding more closely how it affected the lives of people in my family and my close friends would have been really interesting. And this book offers exactly that in August’s story.
I don’t know if R.J Palacio was ever bullied. Perhaps she wasn’t, perhaps she only imagined what it was like, or maybe she talked to people who have been bullied before. Either way, she conveys a fear and vulnerability in August that perfectly portrays how going through that kind of thing affects a person. How you remember the small, but most intimidating, parts of an event that caused you trauma:
It’s their faces that I kept seeing every time I closed my eyes to sleep. The look of total horror on the girl’s face when she first saw me. The way the kid with the flashlight, Eddie, looked at me as he talked to me, like he hated me.
Like a lamb to the slaughter. I remember Dad saying that ages ago, but tonight I think I finally got what it meant.
Please don’t think, however, that this is just an incredibly depressing book. It is also full of wonderful people and characters who can see beyond August’s deformities. And August is an incredibly strong and resilient person; he never loses touch of who he is or who he should be despite it all. August’s story shows that very often, those who don’t have a beautiful face to hide behind or a popular reputation to uphold learn much earlier on the value of being a kind and decent human being. August knows that he’ll never be attractive, but he knows the power of being good, and doing good things, at such a young age:
YOUR DEEDS ARE YOUR MONUMENTS.
This precept means that we should be remembered for the things we do. The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. The things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they’ve died. They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs. Only instead of being made out of stone, they’re made out of the memories people have of you. That’s why your deeds are like your monuments. Built with memories instead of with stone.
The fact that the book is told in numerous points of view gives us an insight into how a condition can affect people who aren’t afflicted by it. August’s sister Via’s story is one that is almost as tragic: she has grown up feeling like she is in the shadow of her brother. Because she’s not afflicted, her parents pay less attention to her and leave her often to herself because, in their eyes, she is more capable than her brother and therefore needs less time. She puts the situation beautifully: “August is the Sun. Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun. The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun. The only celestial body that doesn’t orbit August the Sun is Daisy the dog, and that’s only because to her little doggy eyes, August’s face doesn’t look very different from any other human’s face. To Daisy, all our faces look alike, as flat and pale as the moon.”
But that’s the tragedy of her story: just because she doesn’t need protecting as much as August, doesn’t mean she doesn’t need as much attention. The narrative shows how she, and her friends and parents, deal with this situation.
What I also love about this book is that it allows the reader inside the heads of August’s school friends – Jack Will, Miranda, Justin, Charlotte. Life is not easy for a middle-school child, and they have struggles of their own. Other kids give them a hard time for being around August, and some of the kids handle peer pressure better than others. It’s a really interesting look into how different characters handle the same situation, at such a young and impressionable age. The only thing I think is missing that would add to the story is the point of view of August’s parents, but perhaps that would actually change the tone of the whole novel. It is meant to be written from a young person’s point of view, and I think that’s what ultimately makes it a YA novel.
This book is funny, sweet, an easy read, and thought-provoking. It makes you believe again in humanity. I would definitely recommend this to anyone.