Wonder was published recently. I found it on Amazon’s top sellers, and keep seeing it highly recommended, so I decided to review it. R. J. Palacio addresses bullying in a poignant way in this book.
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Wonder is about August, a boy who was born with a genetic abnormality which resulted in him having a very deformed face. His parents and sister have sheltered him all of his life, but at age 10, he decides to attend middle school. R.J. Palacio does a great job of capturing middle school chaos and drama, and the bullies, friendly faces, and real friends you make in school. The book has a different person’s perspective for each section: August (who actually has the first and last section), Via (August’s older sister), August’s parents are great role models, present and involved in their kids’ lives, although you learn that August’s older sister, Via, has felt neglected as all attention has been on August and his surgeries. August ends up making friends, facing enemies, and begins to learn how to operate in the real world. The kids at school learn that August is a really brave and fun to be around. All in all, a heartwarming story.
Parents should be aware that this book is not written from a Christian perspective. The topics are heavy enough that one might expect a “why did God” question to arise, but it is never mentioned. God is only mentioned once as not the right answer to “what is the most important things?” and there are several instances of “Oh my God!” Heaven is mentioned when someone dies, and reincarnation is presented as a positive alternative. Parents will also probably want to talk with their kids about bullying – as it is rather extensive in the story. Of course, the topic of birth defects would also be a topic some kids might want to talk about. Also, some parents might want to be aware that there are lots of pop culture references to anything from Star Wars to David Bowie lyrics to Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Harry Potter. They are mostly all passing references. I rated this a 3 on my Mom-Meter mainly because of the heaviness of the topic, but my ten-year-old is currently reading it. I just think it is definitely a book where a parent really needs to be aware of what topics their child will encounter.
The message of this book is do not judge people by their appearance. It also raises bullying awareness.
My Mom-Meter gives Wonder an overall safety rating of 3 (Caution) for ages 10 and up.
The Lexile rating for Wonder is 790L.
Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):
- August says “Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.” What does it mean to be ordinary? Do you think August is ordinary underneath his appearance? It’s hard to look past how other look, isn’t it?
- August was born with a cleft palate, among many other maladies. A cleft palate is more common than most of August’s abnormalities. You might want to talk to your kids about what that means.
- When August shows up for the first day of school, no one wants to sit by him. Would you sit by him? Do you understand why most kids wouldn’t sit by him?
- When Mr. Browne begins class on August’s first day of school, Mr. Browne asks the kids to name “the most important thing of all.” “‘God?’ said one kids, and I could tell that even though Mr. Browne wrote ‘God’ down, that wasn’t the answer he was looking for. Without saying anything else, he wrote down: ‘WHO WE ARE!'” Mr. Browne ties it to “Know Thyself,” and tells the kids that they should be asking themselves “What kind of person am I?” Throughout the school year, Mr. Browne assigns a monthly “precept,” to inspire the kids to improve themselves. You might want to talk with your kids about what your family believes about the most important thing. Depending on age and understanding, you could also have a discussion about the philosophy of existentialism and its implications in our lives.
- Jack asks August “Do you ever want to beat those kids up?” What would you do if you were in August’s shoes and people stared and secretly pointed at you? Would you want to beat them up? How do you act when you see someone who looks different?
- August’s best friend, Jack, gets swept up in a conversation with Julian, and he says that August looks like a shrunken head. Julians says “If I looked like that, I swear to God, I’d put a hood over my face every day.” Jack says “I’ve though about this a lot, and I really think… if I looked like him, seriously, I think I’d kill myself…. I can’t imagine looking in the mirror every day and seeing myself like that….” You might want to talk with your child about how easy it is to get swept up into bad conversations, and how important it is to only say things about people that we want them to hear from us. You might also want to address Jack’s words about suicide and what your family believes about it.
- Gran tells Via that she was her favorite. “I love Auggie very, very much, but he has many angels looking out for him already, Via. And I want you to know that you have me looking out for you.” Via keeps it a secret that she was Gran’s favorite, and it comforts her. You may want to talk about how lonely Via must have felt for all the attention to be on August and his health.
- Summer asks August if he has ever wondered “what happens to people when they die?” August replies that he figures they go to heaven. Summer says “I think when people die, their souls go to heaven, but just for a little while. Like that’s where they see their old friends and stuff, and catch up on old times. But then I actually think the souls start thinking about their lives on earth, like if they were good or bad or whatever. And then they get born again as brand new babies in the world… Their souls get a chance to have a do-over… Your soul stays the same but everything else is different.” You might want to talk with your kids about what your family believes about death and reincarnation.
- The babysitter tells Jack “Sometimes you don’t have to mean to hurt someone to hurt someone.” You might want to talk to your kids about how actions still hurt even if intentions are not wrong.
- Justin thinks about how unfair life has been for Via and August, but then he realizes they have also ended up with great parents and friends who care for them. “No, no, it’s not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. And the universe doesn’t. It takes care of it’s most fragile creations in ways we can’t see.” You might want to talk with your kids about how with great sorrow, there is usually great blessings.
- “There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie… But I really believe… that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.” You might want to talk with your child about how to deal with the bad people in the world.
- Miranda smokes at camp.
- Some 7th graders are holding cigarettes – they have been smoking and lighting firecrackers.
- Julian, the main bully in the story, makes a point to bring up things to make August feel uncomfortable. He asks August if his favorite Star Wars character is Darth Sidious. August realizes that is because Darth Sidious’ face melts in the movie. Julian then dresses up as Darth Sidious at Halloween to hurt August’s feelings. August overhears someone say “It really does look like him [meaning August].”
- August’s best friend, Jack, gets swept up in a conversation with Julian, and he says that August looks like a shrunken head. Julians says “If I looked like that, I swear to God, I’d put a hood over my face every day.” Jack says “I’ve though about this a lot, and I really think… if I looked like him, seriously, I think I’d kill myself…. I can’t imagine looking in the mirror every day and seeing myself like that….”
- Julian nicknames August “the Zombie Kid.”
- There is a “game” that everyone in school knows about. “Anyone who accidentally touches August has only thirty seconds to wash their hands or find hand sanitizer before they catch the Plague.”
- Julian’s mom lobbies to have August removed from the school.
- Julian has a party over the holidays, and invites almost everyone and tells them to stage an intervention with Jack. He tells them that Jack has been traumatized by his friendship with August and that everyone needs to refuse to be his friend until he breaks away from August. It becomes the “boys’ war,” and not many people will talk to Jack.
- Julian and two guys follow Jack down the street, making “throw-up noises.”
- Julian leaves notes in Jack’s locker saying things like “Everybody hates you.” “You stink, big cheese!” “Nobody likes you anymore!”
- August gets notes in his locker that say “Freak!” and “Get out of our school, orc!”
- Summer wants to report the notes, but the boys thought that would be “snitching.” Instead, they send their own notes as jokes. They are love notes from an imaginary disgusting girl.
- August tells his mom and sister that they are lying to him (they are), but he shouts and screams at them.
- Lottery is mentioned a few times in reference to August’s odds in the “genetic lottery.”
- “Maybe someone won the lottery today.”
- August tells the story of when he was born, and mentions that one of the nurses that was there kept “farting.” “Like she’d bring Mom some ice chips, and then far. She’d check Mom’s blood pressure, and fart. Mom says it was unbelievable because the nurse never even said excuse me!” When August was born, the doctor fainted, and the “farting nurse” tried to get him to wake up. “And then all of a sudden she let out the biggest, loudest, smelliest, fart in the history of farts.” (There are several uses of “fart,” “farted,” and “farting” in that story.)
- The principal at August’s school is named Mr. Tushman. August and his dad make up lots of jokes about that name before August meets Mr. Tushman (his dad jokes to settle August’s nerves). “Hi, Mr. Tushman! I see you’re running a little behind today! Did your car get rear-ended again? What a bum rap!”
- August finds out that his parents had a teacher in college named “Miss Butt,” also known as “Bobbie Butt.” August’s dad says “She had huge cheeks.”
- August’s dad suggests that they set up Mr. Tushman and Miss Butt on a blind date. “Can you imagine? Miss Butt, meet Mr. Tushman… They could get married and have a bunch of little Tushies.”
- August expected Mr. Tushman to “have a huge butt, but he didn’t.”
- When an older kid sees August for the first time, he panicks. august and Jack laugh about it. Jack says “I swear, I think he wet his pants!”
- August and Jack decide they should come up with a mixture to squirt on people who stare at August: “slug juice mixed with dog pee.”
- It is mentioned that August throws up when he feels bad on Halloween.
- “Puke” is used once.
- There’s a couple mentions of the dog throwing up. You learn that the dog is sick and has to be put down.
- “Pee” is used a few times.
- When August asked Mr. Tushman if anyone called him “Mr. T,” Mr. Tushman responded by quoting Mr. T: “I pity the fool!” August doesn’t catch the reference.
- “Dork” and “dorky” are used many times. Julian says “Only dorks take leadership [electives].”
- “Geez” is used many times.
- “Shut up” is said many times.
- August overhears a boy cursing under his breath.
- “Dumb” is used many times.
- “Swear to God” is used twice.
- August is called many names. He lists out many at one time. “Rat boy. Freak. Monster. Freddy Kreuger, E.T. Gross-out. Lizard face. Mutant.”
- August’s mom says “Oh God.”
- “Shoot” is used once.
- “Stupid” is used several times.
- Kids call August “the freak” and “zombie kid” behind his back.
- “Sucks” or “suck” is used several times.
- “Idiot” is used several times.
- “Moron” is used a couple time.
- “Freak” is used many times.
- “Nerds” is used at least once.
- “What the heck” is used once.
- “Gangbangers” is used once, referring to kids looking like gangsters.
- “Retarded” is used once.
- “Oh my God!” is said many times.
- “Drama geek” is said once.
- Someone is called a “schmuck.”
- “Jerk” and “jerks” are used a few times.
- “Imbeciles” is used once.
- “Cretinos” is used once.
- “If I had a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all.”
- August’s mom draws fairies and mermaids. She tried to draw Darth Vader (from Star Wars).
- There are lots of references to Star Wars. August was a huge fan, so he mentions the characters many times throughout the book.
- It is mentioned that August read the novel Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke.
- Halloween is August’s favorite day of the year because he can wear a mask and being treated like a normal kid. There are lots of references to Halloween and all the kids’ costumes. One girl mentions she was the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz the previous year, and she highly recommends the books (which I reviewed the first one here, if your child is interested in reading it). One girl wats to dress up as a unicorn, but will probably change to “Goth girl” for school. One girl plans to be Hermoine from Harry Potter. August’s friend planned on being a wolfman, but he dresses up as a mummy. August was going to be Boba Fett from Star Wars, but decides to be the “Bleeding Scream” instead. Julian, the bully, dresses up as Darth Sidious from Star Wars to be mean to August.
- August mentions in a list of names that he was called “Freddy Kreuger.”
- August’s looks are compared to an orc several times.
- Gran tells Via that August has “many angels looking out for him.”
- Via hates “how zombified” August’s video games made him.
- E.T. is mentioned in passing twice.
- Via describes her mom as looking either “ghostlike” or “angelic.”
- Via and her mom were going to watch “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.”
- August is called “the Zombie Kid” behind his back at school.
- There is a Halloween Parade mentioned a few times. Summer sees it’s full of “Skeletons. Pirates. Princesses. Vampires. Superheroes. But not one unicorn.”
- Summer asks August if he has ever wondered “what happens to people when they die?” August replies that he figures they go to heaven. Summer says “I think when people die, their souls go to heaven, but just for a little while. Like that’s where they see their old friends and stuff, and catch up on old times. But then I actually think the souls start thinking about their lives on earth, like if they were good or bad or whatever. And then they get born again as brand new babies in the world… Their souls get a chance to have a do-over… Your soul stays the same but everything else is different.”
- August and Jack dress up as mummies for their Egyptian exhibit.
- Someone thought August was wearing a “zombie mask” the first time I saw him.
- After seeing August for the first time, a group got up and left “like we’d just seen the devil.”
- Two boys play Dungeons & Dragons. It is mentioned several times.
- Someone mentions that the sledding hill is “an ancient burial ground.”
- Via says that ladybugs are good luck and to make a wish on one.
- There is a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that references an angel and a god. It starts “What a piece of work is a man!”
- There is a quote from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe about magic.
- August has a dream where he thinks he sees Daisy’s ghost, and it comforts him.
- Mr. Tushman quotes J.M. Barrie, and jokes “no it’s not Peter Pan, and I’m not going to ask you to clap if you believe in fairies….”
- Mr. Tushman quotes Under the Eye of the Clock by Christopher Nolan, “It was at moments such as these that Joseph recognized the face of God in human form. It glimmered in their kindness to him….”
- August’s mom tells August a “white lie” about a test to get into school. He thinks he is just taking an IQ test, but it was an admissions test to school.
- Via lies about her friends to her mom, pretending that everything is fine when it isn’t. Later, she hides the fact that she and her boyfriends are in a school play because she doesn’t want to be known as “August’s sister” in high school.
- August lets Jack copy his homework and cheat off his test. When they are caught, August lies and says that they had studied together and that’s why they had the same answer.
Potentially Offensive Behavior:
- There are tons of pop culture references:
Mr. T (from the “A Team”)
Padawan (Star Wars)
“Battleground Mystic” (Wii game)
Darth Sidious (Star Wars – face burned in movie)
Wookie (Star Wars)
Freddy Kreuger (only the name is mentioned as something August was once called)
E.T. (mentioned in two different times)
Miley Cyrus (Via had a Miley Cyrus wig)
“Avatar” is mentioned
“Bone” is mentioned
Via and her mom were going to watch “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”
Indiana Jones is mentioned.
Some boys play Dungeons and Dragons. It is mentioned a few times.
Clint Eastwood is mentioned once.
The movie “Home Alone” is mentioned.
“Close Encounters” is mentioned.
“Sound of Music” is mentioned
“Alien” is mentioned.
Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” is mentioned.
- Each section has a quote from a song. The songs are Natalie Merchant’s “Wonder,” David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” Andain’s “Beautiful Things,” and Eurythmic’s “Beautiful Child.” The lyrics to “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” are sung near the end.
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke is mentioned – August read it when he was young.
Quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince
Quote from “The Elephant Man” by Bernard Pomerance
Two quotes from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz books are mentioned as being great. (my review of the first book is here)
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is mentioned several times. (my review of that book is here)
War and Peace is mentioned a few times – Via reads it.
There is a quote from “Hamlet.”
There are 2 quote from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
“Our Town” is referenced. Via, Justin, and Miranda have parts in the play.
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie is mentioned.
The Little White Bird by J.M. Barrie is quoted.
Under the Eye of the Clock by Christopher Nolan is quoted.
- One of Via’s best friends dyes her hair pink over the summer.
- There is a chapter called “Warning: This Kid is Rated R.” (I assume that is because his face is a shock to Summer’s mom in that chapter)
- Via says that Miranda used to be a dork that collected American Girls dolls.
- Via describes her and her friends in the midst of a long list of middle school categories, as “not huge, not flat.”
- Via wonders if the reason she doesn’t hear from one of her best friends is because she “met a cute guy” at camp.
- After reading War and Peace, Via says “I want to be in love like that someday. I want my husband to love me the way Prince Andrei loved Natasha.”
- Via mentions a friend has a boyfriend, and meets Justin “who I had an instant crush on.”
- Summer says what she doesn’t like about middle school is that no one wants to play anymore, “all they talk about is who likes who and who is cute and isn’t cute.”
- Savanna “was the first girl in the grade to actually have a ‘boyfriend’… though she dumped him and started dating Henry Joplin, which makes sense because they two of them totally look like teenagers already.”
- Savanna asks Summer “Where’s your boyfriend, Summer?” (referring to August).
- Summer wonders why one girl in dating when she is “practically as flat as I am.”
- Savanna tells Summer that Julian likes her and wants to ask her out, but that she has to stop hanging around August. Savanna asks “Do you think [Julian] is cute?” Summer responds “Um… yeah, I guess. Yeah, he’s cute.”
- Summer tells Savanna that she had a crush on someone else, so that Savanna would leave her alone about Julian. “She, of course, wanted to know who I had a crush on and I told her it was a secret.”
- Summer asks Jack if he’s going to ask Charlotte out. He says he isn’t. She says “My mom thinks we’re all too young to be dating anyway.” August jokes that he has lots of “babes throwing themselves at me.”
- August teases Via by asking if Justin is her boyfriend (he is).
- Jack tells August that Via is hot.
- Justin says “I knew from the minute she sat down at our table in the cafeteria, that I liked her. I could keep my eyes off of her. Really beautiful. With olive skin and the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen in my life. At first she acted like she only wanted to be friends. I think she kind of gives off that vibe without even meaning to. Stay back. Don’t even bother. She doesn’t flirt like some other girls do. She loos you right in the eye when she talks to you, like she’s daring you. So I just kept looking her right in the eye, too, like I was daring her right back. And then I asked her out and she said yes, which rocked.”
- Justin’s parents are divorced. “They pretty much hate each other.”
- Justin mentions kissing Via.
- Justin and Via are “in the middle of a nice long kiss” when they are interrupted by Via’s family.
- Miranda has a “built jock” boyfriend.
- Jack realizes that he has a crus on Summer. He asks August, “When did Summer get so hot?”
- Via and August’s grandmother, Gran, died suddenly of a heart attack. It was really hard on Via and her mom.
- Via mentions that her dad’s side of the family were Jews that had to escape from the pogroms and Nazis.
- Summer mentions that her dad, who was in the military, died.
- The family dog gets very sick and has to be put down.
- August is sad when he realizes he cannot carry a toy “blaster” to school for his Boba Fett costume (it’s a Star Wars gun).
- It is mentioned that a kid broke his neck sledding. May have been a rumor.
- Jack punches Julian in the mouth when he insults August. Jack knocks out one of Julian’s baby teeth and is suspended.
- Jack and August tell Justin that his fiddle case looks like he is carrying a machine gun. Justin uses this ruse later to threaten Julian to stay away from Jack.
- Cap guns are mentioned (as in, something smelled like cap guns).
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