~will include spoilers~
It took me about half a year to actually pluck up the courage to buy Wonder. I had read the blurb previously in a bookstore, and it intrigued me, but it also made me uneasy at the same time.
“My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse”.
This concept of a narrative has always interested me. I enjoy books that include quite morbid themes rather than slightly more cheerful books because of the more emotional connection I tend to have towards them. But in this case, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the book. Maybe it’s because clearly, from the short, hauntingly powerful blurb, I knew it was going to break my heart. Nevertheless, I did buy it. Now, it’s one of my all time favourite novels.
In short, Wonder is about a young boy with extremely severe facial deformities. He has been home-schooled his entire life, but finally his parents decide that enough is enough. He must go to a proper school. From this spirals all sorts of difficulties and experiences, from bullying, to self acceptance, to friendship drama. Palacio used different voices to tell parts of the narrative, and these difference perspectives of August was very interesting and particularly enlightened me about aspects of August that he doesn’t know himself. These voices come from his sister Via, her boyfriend Justin, and his friends Summer and Jack.
August ‘Auggie’ Pullman has a very endearing personality. He’s bright, charming, and innocent. But more than that; he’s ordinary. This message is shown and repeated over and over throughout the novel, specifically by Auggie himself. His best friend Jack tells this best, “He’s actually a really cool dude”, “He’s also just, overall, a nice kid. Like, he’s easy to hang out with and talk to and stuff”. August does not want pity, and has learned to recognise the signs of such from a mile away. However, this does not mean he can recognise his own tendencies to not look past his own issues. August is presented as prone to not realise other people have issues too. Personally, I did not even recognise this until his sister Via pointed it out during an argument, “This isn’t about you! Not everything in the world is about you, Auggie!”. This demonstrates that, interestingly, as the reader we tend to over sympathise with August but under sympathise with the others in his life.
What I absolutely love about August’s personality is his unwavering kindness. At first he can seem more detached and cautious around new people, but this is of course understandable considering the level of torment he experiences daily. Once he gets to know his friends and he can see that they truly like him back, he relaxes and his facial deformity is not at the forefront of his mind. He can get on with living his life as any other 10 year old would. This is not to say he doesn’t have insecurities; he is very self conscious and on guard, but this does not take away from his bravery of continuing to be unapologetic about himself. August’s vulnerability and innocence shines through on the earlier pages, but as we read on there’s a clear difference in August regarding maturity. For example, regarding the death of his dog. Of course, he needs the support of those around him to provide him some kind of comfort, but as do the rest of his family. The extra attention he needs seems minimal compared to what the expected amount of attention he needs would be.
Olivia ‘Via’ Pullman is very much a background character while the focus is on August’s introduction to school. However, once I got to Via’s chapter, I noticed immediately that she spoke a lot more of Auggie than Auggie did of her. This displays how much more attention August needs in comparison to other people, and how much room thoughts of him take up in people’s minds. Via’s entry in the novel really speaks to me as the most honest section, with her desperation to be heard and listened to. Once we as the reader get to know Via more, we can see her for who she truly is. An individual. Very intelligent, very beautiful, and very honest. One part of her section that left me thinking about it for days afterwards is when she remembers seeing Auggie how other people see him, not with the screen of protectiveness she usually sees him through.
“I remember very vividly […] August running over to welcome me home, and for this tiny fraction of a moment I saw him not the way I’ve always seen him. It was only a flash, an instant while he was hugging me, so happy that I was home, but it surprised me because I’d never seen him like that before. And I’d never felt what I was feeling before, either: a feeling I hated myself for having the moment I had it. But as he was kissing me with all his heart, all I could see was the drool coming down his chin. And suddenly there I was, like all those people who would stare or look away.
Horrified. Sickened. Scared”.
This section is so raw and real; her tone so guilty. The way her thoughts seem to spill on the page indicates her need to express these kinds of thoughts. Another thing I thought especially heart-warming about Via’s section is her close relationship with her Gran. The fact that her Gran made an effort to let Via know that she was not simply a background character in August’s life made me feel so glad that Via had one person in the world who she was the most special to, and vice versa. Once her Gran died, Via “held on to that secret and let it cover me like a blanket” (referring to her being her Grandmother’s favourite), showing that she needed the love and protection of someone, rather than being the protector of Auggie. She also later finds this with her boyfriend Justin.
Another section of Via’s that broke my heart was learning that she refuses to have children, as she carries the mutant gene that “made war on his face”. This could take away so many experiences for her, yet she deals with it with grace, so we aren’t sure if she would have really wanted children to begin with. She speaks of this in an extremely clinical and professional way, as though she’s dealing with a patient rather than expressing herself in her own private writing. This says to me that she has rehearsed this before, that this way of speaking could be a coping strategy for dealing with the loss of what she could have. Nevertheless, in my opinion, Via is almost as brave as August.
Jack was one of my favourite characters in this book. His kind nature and relaxed, bubbly personality is undoubtedly why he is as popular as he is. After a few initial blunders, he decides not to let August’s appearance and other people’s response to their friendship hinder this friendship in any way, which I think, for a 10 year old, takes a lot of courage. Being so young, it would be more forgivable for him to just cut Auggie out of his life completely, but Jack is more mature than that. He makes mistakes, such as when he decided enough is enough with Auggie. Jack wanted his friends back, therefore ridiculed Auggie behind his back. But Jack’s kind nature outweighed his desire to be liked again, and he immediately apologised for his mistake. Through his friendship with August, he betters himself and realises that being shallow, self centred and craving the approval of others should not be the desired way to live. August is a positive influence on Jack, and vice versa.
Summer, unlike Jack, never faltered with making August feel welcomed. She has no qualms with fully accepting August into her life, and this is noticed by her classmates who simply can’t understand how Summer can be so calm about their friendship. In turn, Summer is baffled as to why other people are so bothered about her and Auggie’s friendship, “Who knew that my sitting with August Pullman at lunch would be such a big deal? People acted like it was the strangest thing in the world. It’s weird how weird kids can be”. Despite this though, Summer remains loved by all: her classmates, her teachers, everybody. She is also completely individual; she has her own quirky style and persona that make her both likeable and different to others. Of course, she still has that childhood innocence and self consciousness that almost everybody possesses, but for her to not have that would not make her a realistic character.
Isabel and Nate Pullman
August’s parents are a perfect blend of being both loving and protective, but also allowing Auggie to have his own adventures and become independent. They are presented as the ideal parents for Auggie, but with this comes them unintentionally overlooking the needs of Via. There have been multiple occasions where when their attention was supposed to be on Via, it is instead pulled in the direction of August. However unavoidable the circumstances are where August is shown to be put first ahead of Via, of course it is not pleasant for Via to feel like second best. That being said, Nate and Isabel care deeply for both of their children and each other, and do their best for their children no matter what.
~If you have read this book before and are wondering why I’ve left out key characters such as Julian, who is extremely important to the novel, this is done intentionally as I will be covering Julian, Charlotte and Christopher’s stories when reviewing Wonder’s sequel: Auggie & Me. Stay tuned!~
THANK YOU FOR READING!