This past month I read Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Wonder is a contemporary middle-grade novel about Auggie, a young boy with a severe facial deformity who enters middle school after years of being schooled at home. The book is told from several different perspectives, including Auggie, his sister, and some of the kids he meets at Beecher Prep.
For the record, I have not read many middle grade books since, um, I was maybe ten. But this book caught my interest, particularly because it earned a Beehive Book Award (an honor bestowed by the great state of Utah), and because I caught an interview with the author on NPR. The book is certainly worthy of the recognition it has received. The narrators struck me as sincere and genuine, and while the subject matter was heart-wrenching at times, Palacio balanced the story with a healthy dose of humor.
The dominant theme of the novel is that of kindness. In fact, Auggie's English teacher structures his class around a monthly "precept," the first of which is: "When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind." Summer, a pretty girl who genuinely befriends Auggie, personifies this precept throughout the story. She is the kind of character that made me hope I would react exactly like her if placed in a similar situation - and hopeful that I am teaching my own children to behave with kindness as well.
The most striking thing I heard in Palacio's interview on NPR was when she described the inspiration for the novel. She was at an ice cream parlor with her three-year old son, when she noticed a young girl with a severe facial deformity at the table next to them. Palacio said when her son noticed the girl, he started to cry. In her own words:
"I hurriedly tried to push him away in the stroller, not for his sake but to avoid hurting the girl's feelings, and in my haste I caused my older son to spill the shakes, and, well, it was quite a scene—the opposite of what I had hoped for. But as I pushed my younger son’s stroller away I heard the little girls’ mom say, in as sweet and calm a voice as you can imagine: “Okay, guys, I think it’s time to go.” And that just got to me."
I guess knowing the back story and then reading the novel, I was struck by the way that fiction allows us, in a way, to revise and edit our own narratives. Palacio certainly did with Wonder.