“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid….I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go… It’s like people you see sometimes, and you can’t imagine what it would be like to be that person, whether it’s somebody in a wheelchair or somebody who can’t talk. Only, I know that I’m that person to other people… To me, though, I’m just me. An ordinary kid.”
These are the thoughts of August (Auggie, to friends and family) Pullman, a fictitious boy who has endured 27 surgeries to correct extreme congenital facial anomalies of unknown origin. Wonder is the remarkable first novel by R. J. Palacio that takes us with him to a private middle school, Beecher Prep, where he enters fifth grade after home-schooling for his elementary years.
The school is named for Henry Ward Beecher, a nineteenth century abolitionist defender of human rights. (How appropriate!) Beecher wrote that “greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right using of strength.” “He is the greatest, whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.”
After Auggie’s parents make the difficult decision to send him off to Beecher Prep “like a lamb to the slaughter,” we learn about his heart and strengths through other, including his parents, sister, Olivia (Via, to friends and family), his principal, Mr. Tushman (yes, a little contrived), teachers and classmates. Is it painful? Maudlin? A little. And, it is heartening and inspiring.
I have met thousands of families with kids like Auggie. To them, their child with autism, cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome, is anything but ordinary. Like Auggie’s parents, they see each and every child as a “wonder.”
This is beautiful story with many “talking points.” It is book for all ages: one to be read to older elementary school kids, by middle and high school students, and by adults interested in human nature. I recommend it strongly.