Wonder, by R. J. Palacio
My middle-grade-writer husband read this amazing debut middle-grade novel last week, and he cried and cried and cried. While in the middle of reading the book, he asked me whether people stared at me or made fun of me for the way I looked when I was a child. (I had a cleft lip and palate, in addition to a severe overbite and horribly crooked teeth.) The answer was yes, they did...and sometimes I still find people staring at my cleft lip scar. Sometimes children ask me about it. But what I faced was nothing like what the main character in this book faced.
August (Auggie) had a series of birth defects that resulted in a face that is mashed up and unlike any other. The book starts with Auggie saying "I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid...I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."
Auggie has been homeschooled for the first ten years of his life because of all the surgeries he had to endure. (Like Auggie, I also had to have jaw surgery and an implant in my chin.) Finally, as he is entering fifth grade, his parents decide to send him to school. And so begins the story. We hear the story from Auggie's perspective, as well as from his older sister Via and a few of his friends.
My husband, in his own review, writes about why this book is different and has value as a middle-grade novel. I'll leave that to the expert to describe.
The first part that had me crying was on page 7. When Auggie was born, he was immediately rushed out of the room, and his mom got very upset. Finally, "She says that when she looked down into my tiny mushed-up face for the first time, all she could see was how pretty my eyes were." A similar thing happened at my birth: the nurse would not show me to my mom until she had braced herself...because of my cleft lip and palate. But my mom, too, thought I was beautiful and was just relieved that I was there and my defects could be repaired. I could live a normal life. Auggie's mom, too, only saw the beauty in him, and not the ugliness like the rest of the world did.
Auggie makes friends at school, eventually, and he also makes some enemies. People are horribly mean to him everywhere he goes...especially when they see him for the first time. He's a bright, funny, and sensitive kid, as people discover once they get past his face.
I loved this story of a boy who finds his place in the world, helped along by people who show him kindness.
"Shall we make a new rule of life...always to try to be a little kinder than necessary?" --J.M. Barrie