The upcoming cinema release of Wonder, provides an ideal opportunity to consider the charms of its literary predecessor. We meet Auggie, who’s living with Mandibulofacial Dysostosis, a rare and severe cranio-facial abnormality. ‘I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse’. Previously home-educated, Auggie’s parents have decided it’s time he went to school. At the tender age of 10, he must learn to confront the prejudices of an often hostile world.
What Auggie hates most, is ‘that look-away thing’ people do when confronted by his features. The whispers, nudges, sidelong glances. Auggie is wearily attuned to everyday reaction to his face. But school is a whole new petrifying prospect, and Auggie’s poor heart quails within him.
Everyone knows that lunchtime is the scariest part of the school day for a new kid, and we feel Auggie’s fear, as he sits alone with his cheese sandwich, eyes downcast. Summer draws up a chair. She looks like her name, and her eyes are green like a leaf. Maybe everything’s going to be ok. Tentatively forming new friendships, he dares to hope that he may be on the path to becoming ‘just an ordinary boy’.
But then comes the sucker punch. One of Auggie’s new-found friends betrays him in the most devastating fashion. This is a hard scene to read without weeping. Keep your tissues to hand as Auggie battles the prejudice and ignorance of his peers and even their parents, one particularly unpleasant mother Photoshopping him out of the class photos!
R. J. Palacio handles these big themes well. The message that runs through her book is simple. Practise empathy kids. Your deeds are your monuments. The pathos sometimes feels a little ladled on, but once your kids have dried their eyes, they’ll be left with Wonder’s powerful advocacy for a new rule of life: ‘…always try to be a little kinder than is necessary’.
Wonder is published by Corgi Children’s, 316 pages.