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!)


  1. I really want to read this one! It's on my summer reading list too and I'm waiting for it from the library. But it sounds like maybe I should just buy it!

  2. This will get a lot of love on the Cybils committee, I am sure.

  3. I've heard a lot of good thing about this book. I'll have to get to it at some point, though my to-be-read stack of books is nearly falling over!

  4. I am telling you I nodded my head off reading this post, Michael. Oh my oh my you nailed everything that made this book wonderful--and made me want to read it all over again and made me tear up as I remembered parts.Yep. It is a good one. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. Rarely (and I mean RARELY--like almost and literally never) do I buy a book without reading it first (from the library, an ARC, borrowed from a friend...). Weird but true. Because the books I invest money in, I have to love. I have to love looking at them; I have to love them so much I will reread them. WONDER is a book I purchased without reading first because I knew from what I'd heard that I would love it.

    You've voiced this book perfectly, Michael. And I, too, wish I could buy it for everyone I know...adults included.

  6. I'm excited to hear about a book where not every single character is flawed! I too, get weary of so many MC's with absent parents. It's a situation I'm sympathetic to, but sometimes I want to read something that I can relate to a bit more from my own life. I don't think there's anything wrong with supportive parents and hard-working teachers, and I'm happy to hear about them in this book.

  7. This was a really, really great book... just finished it yesterday! I was thrown off by the first POV change b/c it happened at such a pivital moment. But then I enjoyed reading each character's story in their own words. Did I mention this was a great book?!

    Of course there are lots of "choke-up" moments in this book, but there was one part at the begining that I read to my whole family and we were were seriously ROTFLOL! For those who have read it can you guess which part?

  8. I just stopped by from QQQE to say thanks for the awesome feedback on the query - and got caught up reading your posts. Love the things you point out here - voice, and breaking through cliche via the whole having-an-intact-family and teachers-who-really-teach things. I love seeing tropes like this broken down, not just in MG writing but everywhere. Thank you!

  9. I missed this on Monday/Tuesday when i was reading blogs. Anyway, it looks good but did you really cry that much???
    Check out the Samovar today.

  10. A friend told me about this book and now I absolutely have to read it. Now, where's my book money...?

  11. I loved this book. I did a reading from it at our first faculty meeting of the year. Most of the teachers are going to read it as a book club book. I tried so hard to figure out how to read it to my third graders. I settled for using specific quotes from the book in my room. Our goal for the year is to be kinder than necessary.


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