by R.J. Palacio
Strictly speaking, this book is not about disability, so I’m not exactly sure if it belongs here or on my other book blog. I guess you could say it crosses over, so I’m going to go ahead and review it here (and there).
Wonder is sort of a hard book to categorize. At its core, it’s a story about inclusion, although the story takes place in a (fictional) school that emphasizes that it is “not an inclusion school” (emphasis mine), meaning it is not a school that accommodates kids with special needs. In all honesty, I’m really not sure why the author chose such a setting for such a story. It seems like the story would have worked very well – and possibly been a bit more relatable – were the setting a regular public school, instead of a rather elitist private school.
In any case, this story, aimed at the pre-teen set, is about ten-year old August Pullman – “Auggie” to his friends and family. Auggie was born with a collection of syndromes/conditions that have had the main result of severe facial/cranial deformities. Auggie’s appearance actually frightens people. Mostly due to the fact that he’s had to undergo countless surgeries over the course of his young life, he’s always been homeschooled – up until now. Now, as he enters fifth grade, his parents have decided to enroll him in the prestigious Beecher Prep School (again, not an inclusion school – but Auggie doesn’t have special needs anyway, although he does wear hearing aids). Not surprisingly, Auggie is terrified (but also excited).
Also not surprisingly, Auggie is not well-received at the school by the other students (or by some of the parents). The oddity of his appearance literally stops people in their tracks. “Freak” and “monster” are just a couple of choice names he is called.
Told in the alternating voices of Auggie himself as well as numerous supporting characters, the story unfolds over the course of a school year, and the students of Beecher Prep learn hard lessons in tolerance, diversity, compassion, friendship, loyalty, and character. The ending is predictable, but leaves the reader reaching for a tissue nonetheless.
There were aspects of the story that bugged me: all the “dating” going on with these very young kids seemed unrealistic; the emphasis on Auggie not having special needs (and, of course, a gratuitous exclamation of “I’m not retarded!” thrown in; I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is a hierarchy of disability, and intellectual disability is at the bottom of the heap); and, as I said, the setting of the story in a school that is “not an inclusion school” even though it’s most certainly a story about inclusion.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I did like the story. Very much. It’s very well-written, and I think the author has done a fabulous job capturing the angst and attitude of this particular age group, and this does make it relatable and likely explains why this book is such a hit with kids right now.
Definitely recommend, with the above-mentioned caveats.