RJ Palacio's new book Wonder is a middle-grades novel about August ("Auggie"), a young boy born with severe facial abnormalities who, at the age of 10, leaves the safety of his parents' homeschooling and begins attending a New York private school. August has cleft palate, no cheekbones, asymmetrical eyes, and other deformities that are caused by a rare genetic disorder; he has spent his life going in and out of surgery, beating the odds and surviving. He is smart and engaging, but also sheltered, immature, and terribly frightened of human contact.
Wonder's story unfolds through a series of point-of-view jumps, beginning in Auggie's head, then shifting to his sister, his friends, his sister's friends, and then back to him. It is through this device that Palacio manages to produce a story of intense action and intense introspection, a series of interiorized monologues that show the frailties and foibles behind each of Auggie's trials and hurts. Thus, Wonder becomes more than a story about a poor disabled child who overcomes bullies to find acceptance in school -- instead, it's a beautifully told lesson in empathy that requires that the reader find sympathy for each of the principle actors in the story.
Palacio is a wonderful storyteller and her characters are bright, well-rounded and intensely likable. Wonder is a beautiful book that is full of sorrow and triumph, emotional without being manipulative -- highly recommended.
This is what happiness and best-friends-forever friendship looks like.
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