Monday, June 25, 2012
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Wonder of WONDER
WONDER by R.J. Palacio was one of the books I promised myself I would read during the summer vacation. I had heard so much about it--from fellow MMGM bloggers like Barbara Watson and Tweeters like Colby Sharp--that I just had to dive in. (R.J. Palacio's website has a number of interesting facts about both her and about the book. If you have time to visit, do so.)
Here's what happened: I cried. And cried. And cried. I was crying by page 7, and pretty much cried from then on. It got so bad that the Don suspected a leak in our sprinkler system. WONDER was unputdownable--and as soon as I finished, I started reading it again. (This would be a wonderful novel to read aloud to school-age children--but I won't be the one doing the reading. I'd be so overcome, the students would have to lead me off to lie down in the nurse's office.)
What it's about: August "Auggie" Pullman, 10 when the novel starts, has a cranio-facial anomaly. He's been homeschooled, mostly because he has had so many surgeries, but his parents now think that for 5th grade he should attend the nearby Beecher Prep. The novel explores the kindnesses and unkindnesses he experiences there, and his movement from fear to triumph.
Several things R.J. Palacio does masterfully:
1) We've all heard about VOICE, and WONDER captures the middle school voice perfectly. What's more, there are a number of narrators other than Auggie--from Auggie's sister Via (Olivia), to his friends Summer and Jack. All of the narrative voices are distinct and pitch-perfect for those characters.
2) An Intact Family: Really, this is fairly rare in middle grade, where parents in particular are often dead, divorced, or absent in some way. Auggie has two supportive parents, who nonetheless sometimes fail to understand his deepest desires, while doing the best they can. Via, his 14-year-old sister loves him desperately, but also acknowledges how much she's had to let go in her own life because Auggie needs so much of everyone's attention.
3) Dealing with numerous characters in a way that makes each one memorable: Hard to do in school stories. Yet Palacio makes even the most minor character have something about them that is memorable.
4) Teachers who are actual hard-working teachers, not mean or buffoons. If you read enough middle grade, you'll know what I mean. Mr. Browne's "precepts" are fantastic--introducing students to a monthly saying such as When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.
5) Light touches of humor. Humor is what makes Auggie come alive for his friends, so that they are able to see that he is SO much more than his facial disfigurement. Just in case you think it was completely weep-city, I did laugh quite a lot. (I especially liked the part when Via's boyfriend pretends to be a mafioso to scare off some bullies--hooray for violin cases masquerading as machine gun carry-alls!)
When I finished WONDER, I had the urge to go out and buy this book for everyone I know. It is, in my opinion, destined to be a classic. And now, I shall return to my drifts of Kleenex, and read it all over again.
(Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger. For other participants, please see my sidebar. And, happy reading!)