The first year of middle school is an exciting year for most kids. They feel like they’re finally grown, that they have limitless freedom - at least compared to elementary school. Middle school is where friend groups begin to become more apparent and kids begin to form social circles, becoming more and more comfortable around their friends.
Not for Auggie, though. In the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio, the author illustrates the story of a ten-year-old boy, August “Auggie” Pullman, who suffers from Treacher Collins syndrome, which severely affects the development of tissues and bone structures in the face, resulting in uneven face structures and almost “droopy” eyes. Auggie is a bright young kid who begins his first chapter at a public school. Previously, he had been homeschooled because of health complications--that is, twenty-seven surgeries by the age of ten.
On his first day at school, Auggie is greeted with dirty looks and scoffs from his classmates. Alone at a grand table-for-twelve during lunch, he is eventually joined by a girl named Summer, and quickly they bond over the similarity in their names. Over the course of the day, he begins to be comfortable with a boy, Jack Will, who sits next to him in almost every period. They seem to be his only two friends among the hundreds of kids. Julien and his friends Amos and Henry, the classroom bullies, pick on Auggie for his disorder, rallying all of their friends against Auggie. Outcast by almost everyone but Jack and Summer, Auggie struggles to find joy in the classroom environment. Will he continue to stay in school, despite the issues that crop up with his classmates? Or will his classmates come to realize that physical appearance isn’t everything?
On a night of a retreat, Jack and Auggie go into the woods to avoid the long lines at the porta-potties. That’s when they “ran into a group of older kids [they] didn’t know” who began to call Auggie names - a “Gollum,” an “orc,” and even “Freddie Krueger” - until eventually, it gets physical. Helpless and outnumbered, Auggie and his friend seem doomed, when the three boys who used to bully him appear from the dark and stand up for them. In a tiny fray, Auggie loses his hearing aids, has his shirt ripped, and is gushing blood from his elbow - but at this moment only feels joy that the kids who used to bully him finally stood up for him.
Wonder, despite its unique main character, ties together and relates many of the struggles ordinary middle school kids face - problems making friends, conflict within their households, and even internal struggles that often get overlooked. It helps those reading the story to realize that they aren’t the only ones struggling through changing times. Although it takes a lengthy journey to wrap up the story, it describes to those who haven’t been to American middle schools how they can be: and to those who have, like me, it brings back memories of similar stories from my school.
R.J. Palacio takes us through a medley of heartbreak, resentment, and triumph through a series of complicated characters and events that have layers of understanding to be uncovered every time it is reread. She creates a unique voice in every chapter, switching up whose “first-person narrative” she speaks on--something that very few books have. By switching from Auggies perspective to his sisters, and to various other voices, Palacio, directly and indirectly, narrates deeper, minor issues. On every page lies a burst of laughter with occasionally a heartwarming moment. Wonder is a perfect book for middle school kids to begin to understand basic English literary concepts, and an even better book for adults that can fully understand the scope of struggle that the book portrays.