Wonder tells the story of ten year old August Pullman’s first year at school. Up until this point August has been home schooled by his mother and has had very little to do with children of his own age. Like all students starting a new school August is nervous, but unlike most students, August was born with a facial deformity and attending a new school and meeting new people is incredibly daunting, mainly because he knows just how they will react, and just how they will judge him purely on his appearance.
I’m really not sure where to begin with this novel. I did thoroughly enjoy it, although it took a while for me to become fully engaged in the story. It is certainly an interesting topic to discuss and I felt that on the whole Palacio handled the narrative in a sophisticated, yet believable way. Yes, August faces prejudice on a daily basis, and some of the behaviour of those around him is shocking, but Palacio also discusses the impact on August’s family and how they cope with the attitudes of others.
I did have difficulty gaining interest in the story to begin with, despite the fact that August is a likeable character. No, what made me truly engaged in this story was the narratives of other characters. The story isn’t just told from August’s perspective, although the majority of it is, we also hear from: Via, his sister, Justin, her boyfriend, Miranda, her childhood friend and August’s friends, Summer and Jack. It was interesting to read their take on different events and to fully realise that there are two sides to every story, regardless of what one might think. I particularly liked Via’s narrative. As August’s older sister it is clear that she had to sacrifice a lot so that her parents could look after August, take him to various operations and generally protect him from the brutality of the outside world. Yes, you feel sympathy for August because of how people react/treat him, but I also feel sympathy for Via, who has spent a lot of her childhood on the sidelines, and is now struggling with adolescent on top of this.
The one thing I didn’t like, in fact I hated, and this is the English teacher coming out in me again, was Justin’s narrative. The big reason was the use of punctuation, oh yes my old bugbear, but it drives me insane. Justin’s narrative has virtually no punctuation, there are the occasional full stops, but these are not followed by capital letters, and there are no speech marks, making it difficult to follow who was talking. I don’t know what Palacio was trying to achieve with this as for me it didn’t even seem fitting with Justin’s character. He came across as an intelligent boy with an interest in music and theatre, so why the complete lack of correct punctuation. I truly believe that children/teenagers subconsciously learn a lot about spelling, punctuation and grammar through reading, so finding poor examples of it in young adult fiction really annoys me. I don’t care if the author is trying to capture the voice of youth, I don’t think there is any need for it.
Wonder is on the Carnegie Medal Shortlist and is the second book I have read for my school enrichment shadowing the prize. Do I think it is a winner? Possibly. I would certainly place it over A Greyhound of a Girl, which is the other book I have read so far. It deals with a challenging subject and leaves a lasting impression on the importance of kindness and accepting people for who they are. It is this that suggests to me it could be a possible winner…watch this space!