Sunday, 19 January 2014

Wonder by RJ Palacio

Many times when I see a book heavily publicised I become critical. It's not that I suddenly assume a book will be bad, because I want it to be good. I want all books to be good. I've just had a few bad experiences that have made me skeptical (namely Twilight; I didn't even bother with Fifty Shades). But I couldn't help being intrigued by the cover of Wonder. For what it's worth: I always judge a book by its cover. I work in publishing, and I know how important a cover is to the success of a book. If it's not done properly on the outside, I can only fear how good it can be on the inside. So, I picked up Wonder on a whim. It was heavily publicised in my local Waterstones, but I really liked the cover design and thought it worth a read.

Our protagonist, August (Auggie), has severe facial deformity, and at the age of 10 is about to go to school for the very first time. He is anything but oblivious to his condition - the way people look at him on the street, the way people treat him differently - he knows why, but is still able to sometimes see the funny side of his situation.

Once Auggie starts school, the inevitable happens: bullying. Not just your standard name-calling bullying, but more complex forms that are not outright classified as bullying, but still result in emotional damage.There are the kids who pretend to be helpful just to make themselves look better, and those who are friendly, but give into the peer pressure of making fun of Auggie when he's not around.

The beauty of this book, though, is not just how Auggie is affected by his condition and situation, but how everyone in his life is affected and how they see him. Along with Auggie's point of view, we hear from his sister, his friends, his sister's boyfriend, his sister's friend. Put together they show the complexity that surrounds someone who has a difficult life merely because he looks different to everyone else.

Not making a pun on the title, this book has a real It's a Wonderful Life feel to it, when coming to the end you realise how one person's life can touch so many others. It is also the ideal book dealing with the problem of bullying. There are many people who believe that because Auggie is different that it is okay to make fun of him, or okay to assume he has been given special treatment. But there are so many others who choose to be kind, choose to try to understand what he is going through. And in the end, even some of the bullies have a change to change their ways.

My sister is a children's librarian who believes this book should be taught in every school. I would agree, but I also wouldn't hold back from recommending it to people of any age. I told my mother to read it, who in turn told my grandmother to read it. Wonder is a touching story, funny, well-written and above all with an important message. That is, while it is perfectly okay to judge a book by its cover (because there is control over what a book looks like):

It's a lesson that sadly keeps needing to be taught, but RJ Palacio has done a magnificent job in showing how important it is to be kind.

Wonder is published by Bodley Head Childrens Books, part of Penguin Random House. You can buy the book here.

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