Wonder by R. J. Palacio: Required Reading for All

Wonder Book Cover

I woke up this morning thinking about Auggie. I missed him.

His extraordinary face with the unevenly positioned eyes, one half-shut all the time, the cleft lip and misshapen ears, abnormal features (I’ve learned not to use the word ‘deformed’ now) indelibly imprinted would elicit fear from those who see him the first time, especially unexpectedly. The shock may send out an uncontrolled gasp or even a scream. And if one is  maliciously driven, tiny-framed Auggie is a ready and easy target for bullying, especially in the setting he’s in now, middle school, the breeding ground for raw emotions and unchecked cruelty in both words and deeds. The ten year old has had twenty-seven surgeries big and small so far in his life. Homeschooled until now, Auggie is stepping out into 5th grade with unimaginable trepidation, mustering a courage no less than that required for all the surgeries he’d faced in his life.

Auggie, or, August Pullman, is a fictional character from R. J. Palacio’s book for 9-12 year olds, but he’s as real as my neighbor’s son, or even, my own. That’s the power of Palacio’s nuanced and realistic writing. This is a book for all ages, a required reading for every human being if I have my way, for Palacio has painted a perfect world.

In a perfect world, there are still babies born with facial abnormality. But that little life is still wrapped with warmth and cuddled with love and acceptance.

In a perfect world, that child will grow up not thinking himself ‘different’ or deficient, but as normal as any other kid his age. He can still enjoy reading his comics, be read to and tugged in at bedtime, master video games, watch Star War movies, play with his light saber, hug his doggie, and all those he loves: mom, dad and older sis. The child knows no deficiency.

In a perfect world, even after that child steps out of his well protected, comfort zone and ventures precariously into the reality of middle school, he can still find friends, however few at the beginning.

In a perfect world, there are still bullies and jerks. The child will still have to face incredulous challenges and learn to ignore horrible remarks more distorted than his facial features. In a perfect world, even in this seemingly cruel microcosm of the human society, this child can still find love, support, acceptance, and life-sustaining kindness.

In a perfect world, that child is considered a gift and a blessing, a challenge for us to be better human beings.

In a perfect world, good will overcome evil.

Seldom does a children’s book has such power over me. Actually, seldom do I read a children’s book, haven’t for a long, long while. But glad I’ve discovered Wonder. Auggie will live in my mind for a while even now that I’ve finished the book. I wish author R. J. Palacio’s Choose Kind anti-bullying movement will continue to flourish.

A book like this deserves a good movie adaptation. A recent announcement has given me hope that a worthy one might be on the drawing board. Well, just with the two being cast so far. Jacob Tremblay, the wonder boy who plays Jack in the acclaimed movie adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s Room is to play Auggie. His mom? Julia Roberts. As a mother of 10 and 8 year-olds, Roberts would have some insights to instill into her role.

 

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Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

9 thoughts on “Wonder by R. J. Palacio: Required Reading for All”

  1. Kindness is key, isn’t it? We seem to be in some sort of downward spiral into a tit-for-tat world where every supposed insult is a welcome excuse to inflict worse. I hate it, but, since I seem to have misplaced my magic wand, I’m going to have to keep learning and teaching kindness one experience at a time.

    Of course, “Choose Kind” is for big people, too. I saw an instance just today. I’m not sure what had happened, but this is what I saw: an old man from the nursing home across the street, with his walked, and something on the ground. He may have dropped it. Next to him was a young man who had stopped his huge pickup truck, turned on its caution lights, and was talking to the man. Clearly, whatever the problem was, the young man had noticed, and stopped to help.

    He chosen to be kind.

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    1. Linda,

      I totally agree with you that “Choose Kind” is for big people too. More and more I’m seeing, as an outsider, the whole American society is like a huge school playground, the bigger and stronger ones rule, the louder and richer win. And ‘greatness’ is defined by power and might. Seems like bullying is a legitimate means to dominate. I dread to see this trend become reality come November. Anyway, back to this book. I haven’t read a children’s book for ages. This one isn’t trivial or juvenile sounding. Yes of course, the author depicts realistically what a middle grader’s interests and longings are, and she has wonderful skills in eliciting empathy in a most natural and subtle way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ernie Harwell, the legendary Detroit Tigers announcer of four decades once said “When it comes to being right or being kind, it is better to be kind.” It goes so far to help build self-esteem and value to the recipient and yes, being kind makes us better people. It’s one of the few things we can incorporate into daily life that can cost1 nothing but perhaps a moment of time and can do so little as bring a smile or as much as save a life.

    A friend of mine has become a leading advocate in anti-bullying efforts, following the tragic suicide of his teen son (middle school) who had been bullied and simply couldn’t take it anymore. We have “Matt’s Law,” which is a state anti-bully law. He speaks to schools, fosters community awareness. And yet the problem persists here as everywhere else. I’m sure that the models of power players and presidential candidates who use words to demean doesn’t set a good example.

    I long for that perfect world where people — some people, any people, all people — will reach for the cup of kindness. This does sound like “must read.” Thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. Jeanie,

      Yes, thanks for your sharing. It’s awful to have one’s son or daughter become a victim of bullying. And woe to the parents of the bullies, they have a tough job to do to turn things around and I’m afraid, may well bear some responsibilities whether they are aware of it or not. This book is required reading for the human race. I haven’t read children’s books for a long, long while, used to when my son was growing up. Author Palacio is very gifted. She has painted a perfect world as I mentioned in my post. Her writing is nuanced and natural, subtly arousing empathy by the smallest of descriptions. Choose Kind is a worthy cause, and I hope it will continue to flourish and not fade as an ephemeral fad. I totally agree with you about the parallel of bullying in the political arena. (note my reply to Linda above)

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  3. This sounds like a lovely book that I will look for at my library some time. It is to bad we don;t have a perfect world, but, as you and others have said, that does not mean we cannot choose kindness and work to make things better.

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  4. This sounds like a super book. Most bullying isn’t so open for other people to see. The nicest bullies use isolation, spreading false gossip, just ignoring people so that no-one else in their group is allowed to like them. Picking on someone because of how they look is known to be wrong even by young children, other forms that start as teenagers aren’t stopped and seem to go on even by adults.

    The Room is a brilliant film and I agree this will make a good story for a film.

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    1. Do try to find this book Charlotte. It’s a wonderful read, engaging and has a “Spoiler Alert”: a great ending. Well as I said in my post, in a perfect world, even bad things could have such ending.

      Liked by 1 person

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