Judging a boy by his face: Wonder by RJ Palacio

5 Mar

Wonder by RJ Palacio, author, review, writer, American, debut, 2012, child, narrator, moralWhen I first heard about this book, my initial and extremely articulate thought was ‘meh’. It’s not that I’m a horrible person, it’s just I felt like this kind of thing (a crossover novel with a child narrator carrying a big moral message) was all a little bit Curious Tale of the Dog in the Night-Time – ish. Which isn’t to say I didn’t love that book – I did – but hey, no one likes a bandwagon jumper.

That said, it took me just a few pages of reading time before I was caught hook, line and sinker by the story of the insanely brave ‘little dude’ Auggie Pullman, the ten-year-old with a facial disfigurement who wins over everyone he meets. When home-schooled Auggie’s mum thinks it’s time for him to go to school, he’s terrified at the thought of everyone staring at him. Having lived a life of second-glances and cruel playground taunts, the thought of pacing the mean streets of a middle school are a little overwhelming to say the least. But Auggie has a huge strength of character that will get him through whatever life throws at him. Somehow, he always comes out smiling. Cue trailer:

A simple tale of the world as witnessed by an outsider, Wonder is narrated by Auggie and some other children in the novel, including his two new friends, his teenage sister, and her boyfriend. This technique offers a wider angle on events, but Auggie’s chapters are by far the most captivating. If you’ve managed to make it half-way through without blubbing, you have a heart of stone. It’s almost as if Palacio was going through a check-list of guaranteed tear-jerkers (Loss of a close relative, check. Death of family pet, check. Overall feeling of frustration at the existence of some particularly horrible people in the world, CHECK). And I have to say, it occasionally teeters into an All-American cheese fest (I think there’s a slow clap moment at the end plus a dubious use of Christina Aguilera lyrics, for example). But, I really enjoyed it. I read it in one, tear-drenched sitting and felt simultaneously depressed and uplifted all at once. Uplifted, because of aforementioned slow clap. Depressed, because I’ve never had a book reveal so plainly how much I have to learn from a fictional ten-year-old.

My one comment is that I  would have liked to have had a section of the story narrated by Julian, the two-faced teacher suck-up who becomes Auggie’s enemy. As it is, he remains kind of one-dimensional, serving a bit of a pantomime villain function in the plot. But hey, this is a novel primarily for kids after all, and all the adults reading will surely know (/hope) that Julian is bound to have problems in later life.

So yes, if you’re a fan of Curious Tale, or if you’re looking for something a little simpler but just as powerful as a literary heavyweight, this debut is well worth a read. I’d put money on it becoming a big crossover success.

In the meantime, I’m curious to hear what you think about child narrators… are they insightful, or irritating? Which books do it best? Let me know!


One Response to “Judging a boy by his face: Wonder by RJ Palacio”

  1. savidgereads March 7, 2012 at 11:53 pm #

    Oh sweet lord, I loved this review for so many reasons. I really must bring in my dark rather naughty asides in my own blog more often so thank you firstly for reminding me of that. My actual thoughts when I have seen this book is ‘vomit, cheese fest’ and so I have steered clear, and I still might in part because I am not sure on my thoughts on crossover books and because I am not sure how I feel about these books as emotionally manipulative devices to sell, well, books.

    Good child narrators Pigeon English has one, sadly the book is a little lacking because it comes across a teeny bit childish (I won’t even start on the talking pigeon, no really), Room was good. But Flavia de Luce has been my favourite, shes precocious but without being annoying, and she solves murders in 1930s England, lovely. Read Alan Bradley’s books they are brill.

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