Wonder–R.J. Palacio


This book has become a cult classic among middle grade readers and adults alike.  Once I met August, it was easy to see why. The story was born one afternoon when the author was in an ice cream shop with her children and they saw a child with a facial deformity.  The author’s youngest child asked an awkward question and, thinking to spare the other child’s feelings, she rushed herself and her children out of the ice cream shop.  Later, she repented deeply as she thought of how the sight of her and her children fleeing must have made the other child (and her parent) feel. 

August is that child on the page.  He’s going into fifth grade and has been homeschooled due to numerous surgeries, a feeding tube, and general health issues.  All those surgeries later, there’s no feeding tube, but his facial deformity is such that he tells us he won’t describe his face because whatever we imagine, it’s probably worse.  It’s up to the other characters to give us an image of August’s outside while the various perspectives give us a picture of his inside.  The intervening event that kicks off the novel is his parents’ decision to enter him in a mainstream prep school.  Middle school is horrifying as a “regular” kid, much less a kid with a severe facial deformity.  August has all kinds of support from his parents, his principal, and a team of kids the principal hand picks to mentor him, but the kids who are genuine and those who are nice for appearances become clear (as does the parental root of their values in a particularly awful scene where one mom photoshops August out of the class picture and circulates it to other interested parents). 

August is not perfect.  He cries, he rages, he pities himself, he sticks to a world of Auggie’s problems while his older sister struggles to maintain her self esteem as a freshman in high school and the sister of the kid with the weird face whose parents have devoted their lives to making things as right as possible for him since his birth.  Via’s chapters are among my favorites.  Her grandmother sees her in a way her parents cannot and my heart broke when Via tells about her grandmother’s death.  Via is a self-motivated, highly organized young woman because she has to be.  She doesn’t whine about it, however.  She just tells it like it is and she admits that starting a new school where not everyone knows about her brother has been a refreshing change that, despite her guilt, she is not ready to give up, to the point of keeping from her family a role in the school play. 

Auggie is bullied, but the inner strength his parents have instilled and supported in him keeps him going and allows him to be an agent for change for those around him. 

My middle-grade reader did not like this book.  It was predictable, he said.  Isn’t part of the joy the journey, to see how August gets from point A to point B and what happens along the way?  He was not sold, but I was.

Palacio’s impetus for writing the novel hit home with me and probably many others who have acted similarly, wanting to do the right thing as well as the comfortable thing (for us) without making ourselves really consider how it feels to be the “monster” from whom everyone flees.  August is a wonder for changing my perspective, for forcing me to face my own discomfort and fears.  I’m ready for the awkward question.  God creates many wonders, each one unique.  Isn’t that a wonder?

Finished 2/13/14


George Martin–Dance with Dragons (Game of Thrones Series)


I am a late convert to the GMT series.  In fact, I didn’t begin reading the books until I had watched the first season of the HBO adaptation on DVD.  Now, however, I’m hooked.  I was disappointed, therefore, when I read a poor review of the latest volume, Dance with Dragons.  This particular review mocked the plot as Tyrion floats down a river and whines and people die.  The review was true in that Tyrion does float down a river and people do die.   If I picked up Dance with Dragons as a stand-alone novel, I probably would not persevere, but, as a loyal fan, I thoroughly enjoyed following the various characters, particularly as this volume followed some of my favorite characters, such as Jon Snow and Tyrion, not to mention Danaerys.  

Martin also managed to surprise me as the book came to a close.  People I thought might win the Game of Thrones died suddenly, betrayed.  People I had counted out were given a second chance to resurge.  Little of this book took place in King’s Landing, which suited me.  Much of it took place outside Westeros and I enjoyed envisioning the geography outside the kingdom I have come to know and love.

What Dance with Dragons did best, however, was set up what I hope will be a crazy ride in the next volume.  Players have moved on the board, some have left, and we’re ready for some big action moves.  Game of Thrones on.

Finished 2/1/14