Category Archives: Bodley Head Books

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

Earlier this week you may have seen I unintentionally ruffled some feathers when I brought up the subject of ‘New Adult’ fiction. I will admit that on the occasion I can be a book snob in some respects, though I also read M.C Beaton quite regularly just to make a slight conundrum of my own reading frame of mind, so maybe that played a part and maybe that will change too as it has done with YA novels. Not that I could now only ever read YA novels, I don’t quite understand the attraction to doing only that, yet I have certainly on occasion seen that as an adult they can make captivating reading for me too. ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio is one of the best examples of that I have had the pleasure of reading in the last few years.

**** The Bodley Head, hardback, 2012, fiction, 320 pages, borrowed from the library

August Pullman is a young boy who has been born with a facial abnormality. For years he has been as sheltered as possible from the prospective cruel world of people outside his family, neighbours and kids he knew from childhood, yet he is now at an age where home schooling isn’t enough and he needs to think about going to Middle School (what is the UK equivalent of this?) something which his mother and father are initially have opposing views on. It is from his initial visit of a school to his first day that the book starts and we follow August as he meets those who will accept him for who he is and those that won’t.

“For me Halloween is the best holiday in the world. It even beats Christmas. I get to dress up in a costume. I get to wear a mask. I get to go around like every other kid with a mask and nobody thinks I look weird. Nobody takes a second look. Nobody notices me. Nobody knows me.”

I have to say, despite the fact that I have heard lots and lots of people raving about this book whose opinions I trust, I had been concerned that this book would be a rather patronising sugar coated lecture for young readers about acceptance and how tolerant we should all be. Note – I am not against this message. Initially with the oh so accepting school, the use of phrases like ‘lamb to the slaughter’ and discussing what they mean, the ‘welcome committee’ of three children August gets along with a teacher who starts to teach all the kids about precepts, I did think that this book was going to be one such book. Yet the more I read on, initially in August’s narrative and through his perspective though this changes, my opinion of the book completely changed. ‘Wonder’ is a very honest book which looks at August’s situation from all sides, even some rather confronting and unappealing ones without ever feeling like it is done as a ploy to sell books.

The way in which Palacio makes the book hit home, and also seems more unflinchingly real, is the fact that as ‘Wonder’ progresses the narratives change. Initially we see how August feels about his life, then we switch to how his sister Via feels being the elder sibling who knows her life isn’t as hard as August’s but is having a tough enough time herself starting High School, then to some of August’s friends and frenemies which links in their parents and some of the teachers thoughts. This creates a fully formed world around August and all of the opinions he has about the people around him, sometimes correctly sometimes not, and also all those people’s opinions of him. We see the kids who genuinely want to be his friends, the ones who talk about him behind his back and believe if you touch him you get ‘the Plague’ and how some of their parents perpetuate this.

“I never used to see August the way other people saw him. I knew he didn’t look exactly normal, but I didn’t understand why strangers seemed so shocked when they saw him. Horrified. Sickened. Scared. There are so many words I can use to describe the looks on people’s faces. And for a long time I didn’t get it. I’d just get mad. Mad when they stared. Mad when they looked away. “What the heck are you looking at?” I’d say to people – even grownups.”

Palacio may put August through the wringer on occasion but she never makes him ‘the victim’ nor does she make him completely adorable and perfect, sometimes he can be stubborn, opinionated and judge others, or write them off, himself. She also uses a deftly light sense of humour throughout, August is the butt of people’s jokes but there is no humour there, yet when he laughs at himself and encourages those he trusts to do so we read a long. This also creates a certain weight to the novel, highlighting the darker aspects of the book.

I was impressed with ‘Wonder’ it is a tale the like of which we may have read in books, regardless of them being YA or not, before yet with its sense of humour and multiple narratives I think this book exceeds far beyond others of its type as it becomes a multi faceted living breathing world because of its honesty from all view points. I can see why so many people were raving about it last year, though it is a ‘lighter’ read for an adult it would be an exceptional one for the market which it is most aimed at. I myself highly recommend you give it a read.

Who else had read ‘Wonder’ and what did you make of it? What are your thoughts on adults reading YA literature?


Filed under Bodley Head Books, R.J. Palacio, Review, Young Adult Fiction

To Be A Cat – Matt Haig

I don’t read young adult fiction as a rule, I wouldn’t say I am sneery towards it, I just always worry I will be much harder on a young adult book as an adult reader which would be unfair as I am not its intended market. That is why I used to get The Bookboy and The Girl Who Reads Too Much to review them for me. However a mixture of my Gran being ill, and the visiting and mind consumption that has taken up, along with the arrival of Oscar into the household led me to picking up ‘To Be A Cat’ by Matt Haig, an author whose adult books I have been meaning to read for a while.

Bodley Head Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by Shane at Nottingham Waterstones

I really don’t want to spoil this read by giving too much away about it, or indeed letting the cat out of the bag (sorry couldn’t help it), yet with a title like ‘To Be A Cat’ you might have figured out where the heart of this story might lie. That said Matt Haig does produce a book that has more layers than the initial one that almost hits you around the head, though the actual transmogrification doesn’t happen until 60ish pages in, sorry I have got ahead of myself…

Barney Willow is a rather unhappy boy. His parents have divorced, since which his father has disappeared (literally vanished) and his mother is trying so hard to be busy she has become ‘a blur’, he is bullied at school by both children like Gavin Needle and also teachers including the particularly evil and malicious head teacher Miss Whipmire. Apart from his best friend Rissa he really doesn’t like his life, it would be much easier if he was a dog, like his King Spaniel Guster maybe, or even a cat? Sometimes though you have to be careful what you wish for and the consequences that it might bring don’t you?

I really, really enjoyed this book, and I have to admit that I was initially a little dubious. Haven’t we all read books about a bullied child before? Would this book be original? It really is. I liked Barney as a character from the start he is immediately likeable, I ended up empathising with him as a bullied child (as I was myself for a time) and taking a real dislike to Miss Whipmire (who was my favourite character for being so evil, alongside Guster who when we hear his inner voice is a hilarious character/dog) and Gavin. As the book went on I also fully hoped Barney would get the happy ending he so deserved, without spoiling anything I can say that Haig gives us a very interesting ending you might not expect, I’ll say no more.

For me what really made the book was its sense of fun and the humour. Matt Haig gives the book a narrative from the author and does this in a really wonderful way by interrupting the story now and again, and indeed from the start, in a way that mixes witty asides that will instil the giggles in a child and the possible adult reading the book aloud whilst also having the edge of it being an oral narrative of ‘are you sitting comfortably’ which all children universally, along with most adults (I read ‘Redemption in Indigo’ by Karen Lord before this which does the same for adults, review next week), enjoy as it instantly pulls you in from the start. I was sold…

“Here is a secret I shouldn’t really tell you, but I will because I just can’t help it. It’s too big. Too good. Okay, sit down, get ready, brace yourself, have some emergency chocolate handy. Squeeze a big cushion. Here it is:  
 Cats are magic.”

I really have no criticism of the book to be honest with you, well apart from the cover which isn’t as good as the one on the proof copy I had which is illustrated below with another avid reader, yes fo course cats can read, tut.

Oscar makes it look so hard ‘To Be A Cat’

If you aren’t a big fan of young adult fiction then I would say give ‘To Be A Cat’ a whirl for the humour and that sense of being told a story when you were a child, and the fact that it is just a really good fun read. If you know the joys/terrors etc of reading to kids regularly then read them this, they will love it. It’s also a book that, without being moralistic, is a great book for younger or older people about accepting ones lot in life and the skin that you are in, without ever being patronising or twee. Mind you if you don’t like cats then maybe it’s not for you to be fair. That said I should warn you tomorrow’s post will be a very catty one (in the feline sense, not the vitriol type) though if you don’t like cats then I doubt you will have gotten this far.

I definitely want to get on and read Matt Haig’s adult fiction now. I am hoping it is this much fun, have any of you tried it? I have ‘The Possession of Mr Cave’ and ‘The Radleys’ to read, would you recommend either/both of them?


Filed under Bodley Head Books, Matt Haig, Review, Young Adult Fiction