Wonder, by R.J. Palacio is a touching book about a boy named August Pullman. August was born with a facial deformity caused by a very rare, (occurring in only 1 in 50,000 births), condition called Mandibulofacial Dysostrosis, also known as Treacher Collins Syndrome. The condition affects bone development and can cause severe facial disfigurement such as underdeveloped cheek bones, small jaw and chin, eyes that slant downwards and a cleft palate. Less obvious problems caused by the condition are restriction of the infant’s air ways as a result of the underdeveloped facial bones, eye problems lead to vision loss and the formation of the ears to hearing difficulties.
The story is told, not only from the perspective of Auggie but from that of many other characters, all of them children. Each of the narrators struggle with different problems and strive to overcome or bypass them in different ways.
August, often called Auggie, has always found it difficult to make friends due to his appearance, which many find frightening or grotesque. Until 5th grade, Auggie was home schooled by his parents, who decided a sheltered lifestyle would be better for him. So Auggie grew up surrounded by people who knew his face, obviously he was used to the stares he got every time he went out, but was protected by his parents and caring older sister, Via. Eventually, however, his parents enrol him in a local private school. Auggie’s story follows him as he finds friends, enemies, and hostility but finally acceptance in his new school.
The stories narrative switches to find Via, Auggie’s sister, as the protagionist. Via has always found herself in Auggie’s shadow, except in the eyes of her Gran who was dead before the story began. Via has school issues including being ‘dumped’ by her two best friends. But by the end of the novel Via finds herself a life in which Auggie can feature but isn’t the main focus.
Auggie’s story illustrates the harsh reality of the way we treat those who are different, or as in this story, look different to us. Throughout history we have changed generations of lives because of the way people look, even now we haven’t changed much, I think that Palacio’s story is a call to drastically change the way we act. I certainly remember Wonder when I find myself looking a little too long at someone who doesn’t fit my criteria of ‘normal’.
Through Auggie’s friends stories, Via’s and Via’s boyfriend’s, we also discover how we treat even those around people who are different to us, badly. Auggie’s friends are ostracised because they associate with him. Adults and older children may find themselves shirking responsibility because those who directly affect Auggie are all fifth graders, however in the background of the story, Via finds it hard to be ‘The girl with the freak brother’ the way we label people hurts them more than we could realise even if we never say it to their face.
One of the themes that runs throughout the book is that of Mr. Browne’s precepts. Mr. Browne is August’s English teacher. Every month he gives his class a little saying to remember. Then in the summer he asks them to send one of their own precepts to him. I think the precept I took away from this book is never to judge a person because they look different. If we were clones, the world would be a pretty boring place.