I approached R.J. Palacio’s novel Wonder with trepidation. I mean, it sounded like it would be sad and I was afraid it would be one of those books that hits you over the head with its all important politically correct Message (capital M on purpose). But the librarian at my school–whom I respect without question–put Wonder in my hands as I was leaving one day. I had no graceful way to get out of it, so I decided to give the book a chance. The next thing I knew I was smiling and saying out loud (to no one except my dog who was napping beside me), “I love this book!”
Here’s why I think Wonder should be my next classroom novel:
- Auggie is a real kid. Yes, he has a severe facial deformity but he is real. We don’t feel sorry for him. In fact, Palacio makes us really truly want to be friends with Auggie. And not just to be nice either.
- There are multiple perspectives. Most of the book is told from Auggie’s point of view, but there are also chapters narrated by his sister, his best friend, his sister’s best friend, and even his sister’s boyfriend. There are older teens as well as kids. Besides giving my students experience with seeing different points of view, they also have multiple characters to relate to.
- We get some cool pop culture references. Auggie loves Star Wars (and so do my students). Palacio includes pop and indie rock song quotations by people like Magnetic Fields and Lou Reed which up the “cool factor” of the book. I love how Palacio shows the way art and life interact and mirror each other. Auggie’s favorite songs lift him up because they make him (and us) feel we are not alone in this.
- Yes, The Message (capital M) is important. By the end of the book, the reader is cheering for Auggie and his friends. You don’t feel like you just learned something for school, but like you learned something for life. How do we deal with bullies? What makes a good friend? What defines courage? What makes life worth living? It’s all there.
- Oh, and a dog plays a very important part. Enough said.