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.
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?