Hailed as the next The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Wonder is NYC-based author R.J. Palacio’s debut novel about a 10-year-old kid, Auggie Pullman, born with facial deformities caused by a genetic disorder, and his everyday attempts to defy the odds. You’d have to be a brute not to sympathize or at the very least root for Auggie. Of course, this assures that this book will be (and is) a real crowd pleaser, and reaches an audience that is broader than at first intended (Middle Graders), which in turn is very much like what Haddon achieved with his Curious Incident … Very clever marketing indeed!
Both books of course, are sort of like the definite safe Oscar winners playing on everyman’s sentiment and heart. That is not to say, however, that Wonder is a bad book. Not.At.All! But an honest reviewer looks past the sentiment and the cat, for one, thinks that Wonder is actually a good book but with definite shortcomings as well.
Up till now – the beginning of 5th grade – Auggie has been homeschooled by his mom. Now, though, his mom thinks it is time for Auggie to go to a real school (like “a lamb to the slaughter” his dad claims). At school Auggie is confronted with the myriad of ways in which the kids and the grown-ups look at him… the story of his life, unfortunately. As if starting (Middle) school for the first time ever wouldn’t be bad enough in itself, Auggie has to deal with people having all sort of emotions when they see how different he is: from sympathy to pity to hatred even. Only a minority doesn’t care what Auggie looks like and is friends with him regardless. Wonder is told from the perspective of 6 kids and Auggie’s voice – clearly the focal point – is only one of them. The other 5 voices are often interchangeable, though, which is the cat’s biggest reservation when it comes down to narration with multiple points of view.
R.J. Palacio – who in a former life was the designer of Paul Auster’s book covers – hasn’t written an earth-shattering novel with Wonder, but she deftly plays upon a human’s capacity to care and to be outraged at the same time. As is demonstrated in the book, often it’s not really the kids who judge a person’s looks, but rather, the kids just have questions, and it’s the adults in their lives who label and judge. Favoring kindness as the ultimate human value, “when given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind,” is actually the most important precept of this book – a precept the cat does not agree with, btw. If your book is written from that perspective, obviously criticizing it from a non-kind perspective, will make you seem…well, like a brute.
But favoring truthfulness over kindness, for the cat Wonder was a book about an incredibly important topic but the way this is dealt with is a bit too sugary and Disney for my liking. Everything wraps up too neatly. Characters also fall into the good-bad categories a bit too conveniently. And this is not cynicism and not about believing in the fact that literally everyone gets a happy ending.