Wonder by R. J. Palacio (ISBN: 978-0-375-86902-0), explores this latter form of bullying, but also the ability of some people to rise above it, in a short novel about a kid born with a number of physical birth defects who has decided it’s time to go to school with other kids. He chooses to go to a private school, where he is confronted with all the problems one might expect for a kid facing the trouble of being both the new kid and the kid with some unusual facial features. There are a few kids who are genuine in their interactions with him from day one, but for others, it takes some time. Everything in the book is narrated from a first-person point of view, although the first person sometimes changes, as the reader hears from Auggie’s sister and friends on occasion. They have their own unique takes on the situation and show that there is some internal struggle involved in doing the right thing. By the end of the book, most of kids have come around to accepting Auggie, and even come to his defense when some kids from another school decide to pick on him at an overnight outing (a very real phenomenon, as most people feel free to pick on their own friends, families, hometowns, schools, etc., but won’t put up with a single negative word by an outsider). The main character himself has also done some maturing, learning that despite his differences and the hardship they have caused him, there is much he can and even should do on his own.
The book was an enjoyable and easy read that seemed very realistic. I like to think that my elementary and junior high classmates would not have voted me most likely to shoot up the school, but I was also at the butt end of a lot of jokes and usually picked near the end when it came time to make teams on the playground. That’s not to say I was friendless, though, and so much of the storyline seemed very realistic to me, based on what I saw and what I experienced during my early school years. I thought the lessons learned by the hero, his family, his friends, and maybe even his enemies, were positive ones that were general, universal values that people of all persuasions could get behind. The kids, who were cast as fifth-graders, seemed a little mature for their supposed years, and I thought that distracted slightly from the overall reading experience, as did the sadly standard profane language (this might just be me, but I have a lot less of a problem with vulgar language than with profane language, which is an automatic downer every time). Overall, the book presented a good message and had some fun along the way, and has been enjoyed by friends and family of all different ages, so there’s a wide appeal.
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