R. J. Palacio’s “Wonder” will break your heart, but it will heal it too

Wonder paperback cover, published by Corgi Books, 2013

My name is August.
I won’t describe what I look like.
Whatever you’re thinking,
it’s probably worse

It was this blurb that kept me coming back to this book every time I passed it in Tesco. If I had known the first time I picked it up that this was a story that would make me cry so hard I’d have to stop reading several times, it wouldn’t have ended up back on the shelf. But for many weeks Wonder would avoid the trolley, my brain prioritising food over the non-existent space for another addition to my TBR pile. Until one day, curiosity got the better of me, and Palacio’s novel got through self-checkout and found its way to my bookshelf.

August “Auggie” Pullman is a ten-year-old boy who was born with a mutant gene that was unkind to his face. Twenty-seven surgeries later, and a decade of homeschooling whilst he recovered, he’s now ready to start school. This is where the story begins, and the following pages take us on Auggie’s journey through his first year. And everyone reading this knows full well how nasty kids can be . . . but not all of them.

She said soft words that I know were meant to help me, but words can’t change my face.

It was on page 60 that this book first made me cry. Despite my own circumstances being very different from Auggie, it brought back memories of my own childhood. I had to take several breaks from the book to process those thoughts. But the book has more going for it than tears.

For better or for worse, Star Wars references are packed into this book. August has the popular opinion of choosing Boba Fett as his favourite character, but his love for the bounty hunter holds a personal significance to him. More than just nodding at fans, it also forms the basis of a major plot point early in the novel that hits hard.

One of the books greatest strengths is the range of POVs. The story is told in first-person perspective, mostly through August’s eyes. But we are also treated to the thoughts inside the heads of other characters, including Auggie’s sister Via and two of his friends. Getting to see how August influences the lives of others gives us a more complete view of the story, fleshing out the characters, and offers both heartbreaking and heartwarming moments that would go unspoken if we were limited only to the eyes of August.

I missed seeing your face, Auggie. I know you don’t always love it, but you have to understand . . . I love it.

If you’re looking for a bit of hope in your fiction then this might be for you. A lot of what I read (and write for that matter) tends to be dark, sometimes bloodthirsty, and hope is either absent or veiled behind the torturous journey that precedes it. Wonder made a welcome change of pace, which was a short read I got through in a few days–even with all those breaks.

We all know kids can be cruel, and it’s those moments in the book that hurt most. But the narrative has its sweeter moments, perhaps too sweet for some but was exactly the personal experience I needed at the time I read it. Wonder may not fit in with the other books on my shelf, but, much like August Pullman, the book was always meant to stand out. And it’s nice to read a book by someone who shows you what it might look like if we were all kinder to each other.


There is also a movie adaptation that came out in 2017. I can’t speak for the film’s quality, but the trailer alone feels true to the tone and message of the book.

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