Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Wonder, by RJ Palacio

Argh, where do you start with a book this good?  I'm running a Carnegie Shadowing Scheme this term, so I'm getting to read a lot of excellent YA literature.

Wonder, is brilliant.  August, the first narrator is intelligent, sensitive and funny, but he's facially disfigured which has affected his entire life.  His older sister knows she's always going to come second to her brother's needs, and what's so sad is that she totally accepts it.  Not because she's noble, or because she's a martyr but because she loves her little bro.  However much August's family might treat him like he is 'normal', and however normal August feels, in reality he sticks out like a sore thumb.  His descriptions of his first term of school are agonising- it's tough for any kid, but for somebody as eye catching as Auggie it's devastating.  He talks about the stares and the whispers, the betrayal that he experiences and his desperate attempts to fit into life in Middle school and how he learns to stand up for himself and for his friends.

The first person narrative is warm, authentic and full of a strange sort of energetic youthful intelligence.  I kept forgetting that this was written by an adult woman, the voice of August is so compelling and his story feels so thoroughly genuine.  I thought the reference to "The Cheese Touch" from Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a really nice touch, too.  The tone of the writing is pretty similar, to be honest.  Like Greg the Wimpy Kid, August doesn't want to be popular or academically outstanding, he just wants to be unremarkable, to keep his head down and get through school in one piece. The constant scrutiny and judgement, the struggle to fit in and the social minefield of being 10 is something that every person can relate to, whether they have August's condition or not.

We hear from other people in August's circle of family and friends- for a little kid he seems to have a big impact on people's lives.  There's diary entries from his handful of friends from school about their first impressions of him and how his personality and spirit won them round, stories from his sister about how August's condition has impacted her upbringing and her relationships and the struggle she has between her feelings that she has for her brother- shame, pride, love and jelousy.  Ultimately, in comparison to her brother she feels that her life is simple and that she can't complain.  We also hear from her boyfreind who is new to it all, and his sister's best friend who's known August his whole life.

It's a cliché to say it's what's on the inside that counts, but that's something that this book really drives home.  Disability of any kind has such a variety of social stigma attached to it, and as much as people are curious about people that look or act differently- the fact still remains that we are all people.  And that's pretty much all that there is to it.  It made me want to be a nicer person, which is an impressive feeling for a book to evoke.

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