Wonder by RJ Palacio is one of those books with a near cult following – which is typically a type of book I try to avoid. Since we’re now a few years past the peak of the excitement (and the movie adaptation) I decided to finally pick up this book. I was really excited to dive in read a story that I might not otherwise be exposed to. Unfortunately I seem to be in the minority and really didn’t see what the hype is all about. This book lacks a plot, it lacks consideration and empathy for its side characters, and honestly it just wasn’t that good.
I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
The crux of my issue with this book is the fact that all the focus gets put on August. This is understandable given the fact he has lead such a medically challenge life and his consequently face judgement of society because of his differences. However, I think this book really missed an opportunity to talk about how that focus on August affected his sister. It’s made clear early on that Augie’s parents orbit around him and are willing to protect and shelter him at all costs – including by forsaking the feelings of their daughter.
It was briefly touched upon that Olivia (August’s sister) felt like a second fiddle in her family, but the book never actually did anything to reconcile with that or make the situation better. I kept waiting for the moment of reckoning when their parents would realize and apologize for how much they had neglected her over the years, but it never came. It honestly felt like she was just settling for her a lot in life and accepting the fact her parents would never love her as much as her brother. That would’ve been the biggest lesson in kindness this book could’ve taught and it totally skipped it over.
I’m not sure why this book had multiple points of view. While some of them did add definition to the story (like Olivia‘s chapters), most of the points of view didn’t actually deliver any sort of resolution for the characters. Everything was about Augie which left no room for the side characters to develop or have much in the way of side plots. That’s not to say I didn’t find the story of Augie interesting, I just really wish there had been more depth of story for a few of the other characters.
On the whole, the middle school situation felt very realistic – there were different social divides, things changed quickly, and kids didn’t feel comfortable talking to the counselors or three teachers about issues are facing. It definitely wasn’t a Disney Channel representation of them at a middle school, and I have to applaud RJ Palacio for portraying the middle school setting so well. It was gritty and dark at times but I really liked the honesty of it all.
The weirdest part about this book is the fact that there’s virtually no plot. There is a series of events but they’re pretty loosely connected and pacing was really sluggish. It felt repetitive to see different characters react to the same events over and over and over. Fortunately, though the plot was poorly paced, the writing quality was high and that’s probably what kept me reading this book as long as I did.
While I think this book is a worthwhile read for middle school students for August’s story of bullying, I really think it misses the mark in terms of the rest of the characters. Wonder by RJ Palacio was unintentionally sad as you realize how much Olivia has suffered due to her parents’ obsessive focus on her brother’s well-being. It lacks the closure I wanted and fails to deliver on the message of kindness and empathy that it preaches about. If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell 3/5