Wonder – R.J. Palacio
There were a lot of things I’d been planning on bitching about Wonder. How it’s unrealistic. How it sugar-coats the tough real world. How it’s nearly impossible for a ten-year old to stand up to the crowd and choose to do what’s right when he doesn’t have to. How the ten-year olds in this novel sound and talk as if they were much older. How prejudice and small-mindedness are too deep-seated to be erased that easily. How the final chapters were way too pink and sugary and cliché and, if they ever made a movie version (which they probably will, since nowadays everything has to be made into a film) they’ll probably include a sop, cheesy, tear-jerkery soundtrack when August receives his standing ovation. But, I don’t care about any of that anymore. If I’ve been tricked somehow into liking a book this much, even if it doesn’t deserve it, I simply don’t care. By the end, I was blubbering so hard, I thought I’d become completely dried up of all the fluids in my body. Sometimes, the human emotion defeats the spoken (and written) word and renders it unnecessary.
I cannot quite remember why I picked exactly this book to read. Maybe because it sounded catchy and promising? Maybe because it looked like a quick read and I was desperate for something under 200 pages, since time’s running short and I still haven’t completed my reading challenge for this year? Whatever the reason, I know that I certainly haven’t chosen it because I believed I would in any way be able to relate to it. That definitely wasn’t the reason. What do I know about people with facial deformities (anomalies, abnormalities?, not sure what the politically correct term is)? Nothing. In my entire life, I’d only once seen a person with a severe facial deformity. I stared for a single nanosecond and then looked away. I wasn’t sure what they wanted me to do. What’s better? Staring or ignoring? I wasn’t sure, but went with good old ignoring, since I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
They story of August’s life and his fifth grade experience is told largely from his own perspective, but there were a lot of other accompanying characters whose opinions we get to read about. One that I was really looking forward to was the viewpoint of his parents, at least one of them, but unfortunately, a chapter or part of the book describing their own fears and hopes didn’t exist. That’s ok, since I got to see this little world through the eyes of Via and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. Her experiences seemed the closest to my own, myself being the sister of a younger, special brother. My brother has autism and, while that cannot compare to Auggie’s situation (both have their pros and cons), I certainly know what it’s like to be the big sister who’s got to take care of her brother, to defend him and how his own problem affects my life. There is always a bit of frustration going on there. Not all the time, but here and there, it tends to bubble up and explode in hurtful ways. Sometimes I feel like the attention he gets from our parents is much greater than the one I receive. Sometimes I myself feel impaired because of his problem. Sometimes I even miss my brother, even though we live under the same roof and see each other every day. I miss what our relationship would have been like, had he been born a regular baby. But, mostly, I’m just grateful. Sounds cheesy, I know, but I really can’t describe it in any other way. And, while I can honestly say that I can’t remember even being ashamed or weary of other people meeting my brother, I definitely know what it’s like to feel shackled, almost restrained and limited by the limitations my brother has. You aren’t tied down, but you’re not quite free either. I don’t know how else to describe it. By loving someone this much, you accept all the burdens and all the rules and restrictions that come with them. You even welcome them. Auggie will grow up and, though he certainly does look different, he will nonetheless be able to cook a meal for himself without burning down the house, so in a way, Olivia doesn’t face quite the same challenges and responsibilities as I do. But, then again, there’s a reason for everything. Facial deformity, autism, various illnesses and handicaps, they all carry different levels of duty and responsibility with them, they all have their pros and cons. As Justin wisely observed, the universe evens everything out. It takes care of its most fragile creatures and surrounds them with loving people. Auggie, my brother and all of us in-between will always have support around us, someone to lean on when we need it. Shit, I’m crying again.
Anyway, all of this was presented so well from Via’s perspective and I was really surprised by how much I was able to identify with her character. It’s not all about our younger brothers. The friendship between her and Miranda reminded me immensely of the friendship between myself and my best friend. Grew up together, did everything together, but once high school hit, it seemed like we were done for. I’ve always been something of a late bloomer, desperately holding onto childhood, digging my feet into the ground below, trying to somehow prevent time from whizzing by. It didn’t work. My friend knew this and calmly accepted this. I, on the other hand, was way too stubborn to give up without putting up a good fight. We drifted apart. She chose going forward, into adolescence and everything that comes with it. We had next to no contact for more than two years. But, five years ago, we found our way back to each other, when she was done smoking and going out and putting on too much make-up and when I was done pouting and resisting growing up (well, actually, I’m still working on that last part). And now that we’ve matured (at least, in some aspects), there’s no separating us. And that’s another prominent theme in the novel – friendship. No man is an island.
In my opinion, this is the kind of book that makes you want to be a parent, even if you dread being one. Still, I would rather go on being a non-parent my entire life if it meant sparing this world another small-minded, mean bully. I’m not going to waste much time writing about them, since they don’t deserve it, but, please try not to raise a jerk. Parents and future parents everywhere, please, make sure your kids are decent human beings. Don’t let them spend their childhoods playing video games. Instead, read to them, show them documentaries, take them volunteering, drag them to seminars, introduce them to a disabled person, befriend that neighbour of different heritage and different religion or that nice gay couple down the street. I don’t care what means you choose, but always try to teach your kids kindness and tolerance. If you don’t, they’ll end up being bullies as children and mean, spiteful, unhappy people as adults.
Speaking of parents, I love Auggie and Via’s parents. They’re simply amazing. I especially liked the ease with which they bring dogs in their house. I was just about to write down something along the lines of ‘I wish I had parents like that’, but then stopped when I realised that I already do. Damn you, human nature! Why do you let us take so many things for granted? Not that I’m bragging, but I really do have amazing parents. The kind that other kids wish they had. Ok, so maybe they’re a bit grumpier than Auggie’s parents, but they’re still amazing. They raised an autistic son and a crazy, stubborn daughter who refused to talk to them for three whole years while going through puberty and they still have plenty of life left in them to go to concerts and ski trips. Again, not that I’m bragging, but I think both my brother and I turned out ok. In some ways, more than just ok. One thing I would like to change about them is their policy on dogs. I’ve never had a dog… *weeps silently*
P.S. According to Goodreads, this is the 250th book I’ve read. Hey, not a bad milestone for a 22-year-old. Anyway, it wasn’t planned or anything, but now that I think about it, I’m really glad that Wonder is my milestone. It’s a beautiful, heart-warming book that reminds us all, regardless of our age, what it means to be a good person and teaches us the importance of people and the bonds we make in our lives. I would recommend this book to anybody. So, what if it’s a bit pinkish and a tad unrealistic? Big deal. Life is difficult enough as it is, so we may as well keep writing and reading novels like Wonder. Novels that leave us feeling alive and well, elated and floating even. Novels that teach and nurture. Novels that make you cry, but then erase those tears and replace them with a big smile, the kind I’m wearing right now.