When David recommended this middle-grade book Wonder to me as a bedtime book to share with Primo, I was dubious. He said it was about a very severely deformed little boy who starts school for the first time in 5th grade. He gets bullied, he said. Sounded suuuuuuper depressing. Big-time downer.
But he kept bothering me about it. "Just read a few pages," he said, "I think you're going to love it."
My husband is a smart guy sometimes, especially when it comes to matters literary.
I started reading the book with Primo about a month ago and we finished it last night. And now I'm sad -- the way you are when you finish a book so consuming you don't want to let it go.
Here's what I love about the book: it is, in fact, about a very severely deformed little boy who starts school for the first time in the fifth grade, and he does in fact get bullied but it is not even remotely depressing. In fact, its one of the most deeply inspiring books I've read in a long time. Its hard to write a book that is uplifting without being maudlin or sentimental but Wonder gets it just right. RJ Palacio follows the little boy, August, from September to June, in his first year of school. As you can imagine, its no cake walk at first -- or really, for almost the whole year. But by the time the year ends, something miraculous, and totally believable, happens. The other kids, and us as readers too, learns to see past August's face. Its simple and maybe even predictable but the trajectory is so well drawn, so vivid and touching, it packs a powerful punch.
And here's the other thing -- the story is incredibly relatable, despite being about a condition that is, in this day and age, almost unheard of. The particulars don't matter though. Even as we as readers wonder how Auggie or his parents could go through life saddled with the enormity of his burden, we also can understand. Everyone of us has something that makes us feel apart, like an outsider -- its just most of us are able to hide these things, unlike Auggie.
I must have broke down in tears half a dozen times throughout the book but at the end, I was left exactly as I like to be left at a book's conclusion -- feeling hopeful, feeling motivated to be a little better than I was before. I know that Primo felt the same way. And that's what I think is so spectacular about R. J. Palacio's story - its the right story for kids to hear at a time they can (hopefully) still really hear it. I genuinely feel like Primo will carry some of Wonder's message with him and try to be, as August's teacher likes to say, a little kinder than necessary, every day.