R. J. Palacio
London, Random House, 2012, 313p
Some stories are told so well that you want them to be true. Over the next few weeks, I am embarking on a mission to get through the CILIP Carnegie Children's Book Award short list. I was in no doubt as to which I wanted to start with, having heard such incredible things about R. J. Palacio's novel, but I was still impressed.
Wonder is about a young boy with a facial deformity. August Pullman was born different but has always seen himself as ordinary. Yet his first day at school, having been educated at home, is full of apprehension. The novel is touching and heart-warming - the kind of book that makes you feel incredibly lucky to be you, whoever you are.
I read this novel in about six hours, on and off. It has been a while since I read something that fast! But August is a beautiful character. He does not look like the other kids at school, but Palacio has not made him some sort of angel child. He is normal. He wants to fit in. He struggles, because people carry many misconceptions about him, and some people are mean. But he doesn't hate those who point and stare; he just wants them to understand that he is just like them.
And that is what this novel allows. Written from the point of view of several narrators, the novel is not preoccupied with a boy who feels sorry for himself, but with explaining what life is like for August and those around him. First, it delves into the mind of August, a surprisingly understanding and brave young man. Then, his older sister recounts growing up in second place, always having to make sacrifices, but knowing that they are worth it, because she loves her brother. From the point of view of his friends, we learn what it feels like when you first see August; the moment of shock quickly followed by a feeling of guilt. But soon they know August for who he is, not what he looks like.
This novel tells us it is okay when you don't understand something. Palacio gives the reader the opportunity to see the world through another's eyes - through several sets of eyes. It shows us that no one is perfect; everyone feels angry or jealous or lonely. But within us is the ability to be kind:
"...always try to be a little kinder than is necessary." - J. M. Barrie