Wonder by RJ Palacio

This one makes me sad …like majorly, epically, soul-crushingly sad. And not in the way you might think. After all, it’s the story of a boy who has major facial deformities, how his family tries to protect him, and how mean kids are when he finally starts school.

And sure, all those things make me sad.

What makes me saddest though is that I didn’t feel MORE …something. Weepy, touched, inspired…I’m not sure what I expected, but SOMETHING would have been nice. And a lot more of it. (I’m pretty sure I had the exact opposite reaction to this book that I was supposed to. Again, I AM the devil.)

Maybe it’s because I heard such rave reviews about Wonder. Maybe it’s because I feel strongly about anti-bullying causes and I realize that kids are just plain MEAN. Maybe it’s because it seems like one of those profound statement books that should have been so much more. Maybe it’s because it COULD have been…well, a wonder of a book.

August apparently has some form of Treacher-Collins syndrome which leaves him with a face that looks kinda melty and mushed-up. He gets stared at and teased a lot; even well-meaning adults do a double take or involuntarily startle when looking at him. Auggie seems like a genuinely cool kid and as a reader I can’t help feeling bad for him. Still, though, as bad as his story seems, I feel like it could’ve been SOOO much worse, you know?

Sure, being chased around by big mean kids at camp and teased at school is awful. Overhearing your supposed best friend say cruel things about you behind your back is surely crushing.  But I feel like lots of kids go through similar things and deal with it much like Auggie has to. (And a hidden part of me wants to shout: well, at least he HAS friends….) Of course, his bullying is probably worse in that he can’t help or change his face, but he also seems to have had the upbringing, support from his family, and general pluckiness of character to deal with those things better than many children might. Instead of making him different, I feel like the torment he endures by other bigger, meaner kids somehow makes him the same as normal-looking kids, you know? And where Auggie has friends who surround him and protect him when he’s dealing with a crisis, many kids just fade into the background because they don’t have that support network or wherewithal in themselves to survive it.

I guess my point is that it is hard to stand up to bullies; most kids in my experience wouldn’t do it. Not every new kid, particularly one who appears so outwardly different, is going to have a kid come sit with him at lunch on the first day of school. Not every bullied kid is going to be recognized for his courage at the end of the year. The whole be-kinder-than-you-have-to movement he inspires at the end seems kinda empty as far as causes go. I almost feel, and don’t kill me for saying this, that Auggie, because of his face, was always kept more visible; as a result, he was also easier for kids to rally around and adults to protect. He’d never be the bullied kid who hides in the shadows or falls through the cracks. All in all, the book makes me sad but not so much for Auggie. As a reader I somehow always know he will be okay…it makes me sad for the invisible bullied kids like my own son who deal with this issue every day without any support from kids or adults around them.


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8 Responses to Wonder by RJ Palacio

  1. kelley says:

    ughhh, this would be too sad for me.

  2. a parent says:

    In the beginning Auggie talks about ‘normal’. He feels normal but by this fact of being born ‘different’ he is seen and dealt with as not ordinary, his ordinary ways are seen as extraordinary (aka, at the end of the book he is NOT just seen an ordinary kid who faces bullies–he is ‘extraordinary’). So in a way you make his point.

    I have a very outgoing, charming, social child with multiple missing limbs and a very small lower jaw (Hanhart Syndrome). He just wants to be ordinary, yet everytime he does something that every other kids does it is ‘wow, he does so well’…no he does just ordinary and it hurts him and I to hear that comment. I’m a jokester type of dealing with it –sort of like Auggie’s dad.

    I know it’s getting long but here is a story I read once about being different that stuck with me: you are walking by a river and notice people on a bridge pointing and shouting at you. A small child is drowning. The people are calling you to help. You can keep walking/run away and you will be forever known as the coward who didn’t even try. The media will speculate and you will live with the guilt that the child died or even if someone rescued the child that you just ran off. Maybe the media will knock on the door after tracking you down, ask you why you didn’t try, when they find you everyone will tell worst things you’ve ever done)..a lot of people will know you as the coward. If you save the child you will forever be a hero scrutinized for your goodness (and media will hound you, your neighbor who you often argue with over who parks where might be out there telling everyone all the non-hero things you do while you mother extols your virtuous way), or who could try to save the child but both of you drown and you are the hero who tried and every will likely only tell the good things about you. No matter what you do you will never be just an ordinary person walking by the river again.

    • shelleybean1 says:

      That’s kind of an amazing story. Thanks for sharing. I think being jokey is probably the best way to be, particularly when dealing with a situation outside the ordinary. Auggie, and your child I’m sure, have obstacles others will never understand. I guess I just wish people were more accepting of ALL people, that’s all.

  3. Mark says:

    And that is how Auggie feels…he is never going to be just an ordinary person. As you say the author of this post sort of gets that. She’s saying everyone deals with this and what about the ‘normal’ kids who are bullied. Nobody sits at their table because they are ordinary and so other kids ignore them. Some kids see a child like Auggie or your child and will have been told that ‘everyone is special and important’ (but to be blunt they were told be nice to handicapped or else). Anyway, the same kid who maybe would make an effort for a handicapped (not ordinary child) might not do it for a child who was not handicapped.

    • shelleybean1 says:

      That was sort of my point, in my typical longwinded, roundabout way…I just get a little ranty sometimes 🙂

      Thanks for visiting!

  4. a parent says:

    Hmm…I think I got a bit of a ranting too. I started to write how for me the story wasn’t as great as I thought it would be either. But, to me, the story was never about bullying. What disappointed me was that the book was more like a thesis paper. In first paragraph Auggie says I’m ordinary and people treat me as not ordinary (both less than and more than ordinary).

    I’m kind of with shellybean1 on this. Why does my kid get all this attention and also worry that he might recognize it. When it happens I often am overcome in fear (please don’t let him realize they are really saying great kick for someone with a prosthetic vs someone with real talent).

    It especially hits home because my son is so not in need of it. When someone says something mean about my kid, he would never have run off and cried. I probably would have but he confronts it. He’d have called Jack out and made a joke of it and been over it. I have no clue how he got there but somehow we’ve managed to get that ‘bully’ proof stuff down: it just rolls off him.

    That being said I know my son would also not stop a bully from taunting someone else. He is in many ways typical self absorbed kid who does his thing, but also goes along with the crowd. I’d hope he wouldn’t single out or bully but he’d definately not go out of his way to be friends with a not popular child. He would be a (darn I forget her name)-Christine? Catherine? The girl who is nice enough but doesn’t make an effort.

    Sorry I’m just long winded today! slow work day. Forgive all the typos, please..I’m at work. I really should have picked better name then ‘a parent’.

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