This #1 best-selling book for middle-schoolers, which has held its top place on the New York Times list for four months, is a wondrous novel that deserves its popularity. One reason for its prime place is the fact that so many adults are reading it. It was recommended to me by one adult - my daughter, who works with the Little Baby Face Foundation, a remarkable charity that provides free corrective surgery for children with disfiguring birth defects. She'd learned of it from another adult. I couldn't put the book down, and I cried, laughed, and rejoiced in its message of the importance of kindness and the triumph of a boy faced with so many obstacles.
The novel's central character, August Pullman, was born with a severe facial deformity that, despite 27 operations, still produces horrified reactions from almost everyone he encounters. Previously home-schooled because of his surgeries, his other medical problems, and his appearance, now Auggie is starting fifth grade at Beecher Prep, a mainstream private school. Auggie wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid, but his new classmates can't get past Auggie's extraordinary face. The book is reminiscent of the movie "Mask" and the play "The Elephant Man," and is even more moving since it is a story of a child.
WONDER begins from Auggie's point of view and then, Rashomon-like, expands to speak in the voices of his older sister and her friends, his classmates, and then comes back to Auggie. The only person we don't hear from is the class bully - it would have been illuminating to hear how he justified his meanness to Auggie and those who befriend him - but this is a minor cavil in a wonderful portrait of a community's struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
One of Auggie's teacher's precepts, "When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind," is the overarching theme of the book, and even if you don't know anyone like Auggie, you will be moved to lead your life with a greater awareness of the need to be kind. The book is also a good, fast, and suspenseful read.
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