On the inside, August is a normal 10 year old boy. Born with severe facial deformities, he has been home schooled until now. This is the story of his first year at school.
Wonder is told from a variety of first person perspectives, starting with August himself. Things don’t seem all that bad from his point of view and as you read on you get the sense that he has really come to terms with how he looks and what people think of him. I was thinking everyone seems far too kind to be real but that is only how he sees it.
It’s only when you get to his sister Via’s narrative that you are told what August looks like and get a real sense of the reactions towards him. It seems odd that August’s condition isn’t named and Via goes so far to say it doesn’t even have a name. I wonder if this is to deter younger readings from googling images? August does in fact have Treacher Collins Syndrome, in which the facial bones fail to develop fully in the womb. This causes a number of problems including difficulty with breathing, eating and even hearing as the inner ear is made up of tiny bones. However mentally, people with TCS are just like anyone else.
The story is also told from the point of view of August’s friends, Summer and Jack, and Via’s friend Miranda and boyfriend Justin. I get that Justin was used as an outside perspective but his section is told in lower case and without speech marks which made it hard to follow. It makes the point that August’s family don’t judge on appearances but I really don’t see the point in the change of style. Justin suffers from a tic and the writing style makes you think he may have learning difficulties but does this not go against the whole point of the book, do not judge people on things outside of their control?
The alternating narrators are otherwise used to great effect. It is all about perspectives and goes to show what we display on the outside is not always what’s going on inside our heads. Personally, I would have liked one of the parents’ perspective but there does seem an unwritten rule in young adult that anyone over 20 doesn’t get a featured role. Also all the narrators are very sympathetic characters, it would have been interesting to know what was going on in Julian’s head.
I was glad that Palacio included the passage where Jack’s little brother is scared of August. When I think back on all the things I was scared of when I was little, disfigured faces were high up on the list. Not in a malicious way or even a learned fear, it is something that is instinctive. The first time I watched The Goonies, Sloth terrified me, and he turns out to be one of the good guys. It is of course awful for August that he is feared, but it is one of the most real parts of the story.
There are some really moving parts but I think the bullying is watered down a little to what it would be in reality. Kids can be cruel but even the bully character, Julian, seems sanitised. Either they seem too mature for their age or they are not old enough to have developed the bitchiness that comes with hormones and peer pressure. The ending was too unbelievable for me but works as a moral message.
Wonder is published by Alfred A. Knopf in the US and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. It will be available from Bodley Head in the UK from 1st March 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.
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