Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Caidyn: 1/5
Chantel: 2/5


Meh.

That’s really all I have to say about the book, but I know that I need to explain it since 1) this is a much beloved book and 2) I read this with Chantel so we need to do a fun discussion review of it. For me, this book is a case of a good message but a bad story. By now, everyone knows that this book is about a boy who has a facial deformity and it’s all about him going to school for the first time. And that’s middle school. Great choice, guys. And it’s a book about how people will like you no matter what and the bad guy loses and blah blah blah.

So, let’s count the ways I didn’t like this.

For one, there are too many pointless points of view. Great, his sister gets a part. Oh, and his friend from school! And… the guy he doesn’t exactly like. And…. his sister’s boyfriend???? They had no point and just hashed out the same issue without taking any steps forward. There’s a bad guy he goes to school with and you have to destroy him.

Great.

My second issue was that it was so contrived, which made it unrealistic. One thing I took away from reading On Writing by Stephen King was that you have to tell the truth about what you’re writing. You tell the truth and your reader will appreciate it.

Palacio didn’t. This made the book feel so unrealistic. Like, where does Auggie’s parents get all the money that they apparently have? They live in New York, which is fucking expensive. Then, they somehow pay for his treatments without an issue. And then they send both kids to private schools. With their father only working.

The parents were also far too perfect. The father just didn’t strike me as realistic at all. Then the mother was better but not quite. Really, they felt so stifling perfect.

Also, how did Auggie get into prep school after only being homeschooled… by a woman they tease about not being smart enough to get him into prep school.

And then the whole good/evil thing. Too cut and dry for me.

Overall: Bleh.

Oh boy.

At least I’m not alone in not liking this book. I hate to say it because I don’t like writing negative reviews and this is a popular book. I read the whole thing and at first, I was annoyed at August’s POV. There was something about him I didn’t really like. Something that was off-putting. Maybe the fact that he was a ten-year-old boy, I dunno. However, as the book continued on I longed for Auggie’s point of view because there were FIVE different points of view other than Auggie’s. Which brought this book in at over three hundred pages. The only POV that made sense other than Auggie’s was his sister Olivia’s. Instead, we get, Olivia’s ex-best friend and her boyfriend WHO HATES CAPITAL LETTERS APPARENTLY.

Then we get Jack’s POV. Jack is the first kid at Auggie’s school who is nice to him and they become friends. However, he says something awful, Auggie overhears him, and they are no longer friends. I was starting to get fed up during Jack’s part of the book. I did not care about his home life, I didn’t care about his reasoning for saying what he did about Auggie, and I didn’t care about him punching the mean boy in the face. I didn’t fucking care.

All of these POVs seemed to all have the same message: “Yeah he’s ugly and deformed but he’s a cool guy.” I didn’t like that. During Olivia’s part of the book, she talks about constantly being overlooked by her parents because of Auggie’s condition. I appreciated that because it seemed to be the only honest thing in the book. Not everything is perfect and it’s clear that Olivia resents her brother even if it’s not his fault he was born a certain way. I would’ve liked more of that rather than five different kids talking about how ugly he is and how great they are for hanging out with him.

This book would’ve been a lot better if they had limited the point of view changes to family. Not his friends. I don’t want to know what’s going on in their heads. Their point of view didn’t add anything to the story. Hell, this might have been better in third person perspective, but I think not limiting this book’s perspective to Auggie was a huge mistake and the main reason why I disliked the book so much.

What I think we should emphasize is not that we didn’t like the message of this book. Choosing kind is what we’re all about. We want people to choose kind and to be good people to others, especially those who are marginalized for sexuality, gender, disabilities, etc. Just that this book doesn’t do it in what feels genuine. Nor was it interesting. We’re not taking a shot at those who love this book and find it beautiful. We just find major faults in the storytelling and way the message was presented to us.

Perhaps I was harsh. I do believe that maybe we weren’t the right audience for this book. I’m not fond of that excuse, but I’m going to try and explain myself. This book is clearly targeted towards pre-teens and teenagers. Both Caidyn and I are in our twenties and while we can appreciate a message which teaches kindness, it felt directed toward kids who were in middle school or high school to teach them a message. The different perspectives might be random and unnecessary to us, but they might resonate with someone who is reading it. Like someone who is quiet and says nothing when another kid is bullied. Maybe after reading Wonder, that kid stands up for the bullied kid. I think ultimately this book is for a younger audience who aren’t necessarily kind to everyone.

Well, I know that I completely agree with you. The many POVs made zero sense to me, minus the addition of his sister’s. I didn’t need to hear about things from Olivia’s perspective, but it added to the family dynamics. I really didn’t need her boyfriend’s. Or her friend’s. Or all of Auggie’s “friends”. Pick a perspective and stay with it, or only have two perspectives. It weakened Palacio’s message by showing all these people think he’s ugly and deformed when her message is to choose kind.

And, going off of the whole standing up for someone being bullied thing, we are too old for that message. Like, yes, that’s great. Do that. Be kind. I do my best to do that every day. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I don’t. However, at our age, that’s not going to really be taught to us. The book was just too young. The message is good, but not for someone our age. I think that this would be different if we had children or families of our own, though.

I might have liked the book more if it had just been from Auggie’s POV because at least with his POV I was shown that he was a normal ten-year-old boy. Also, the book might have been a lot shorter which I would’ve liked as well. I think this book could’ve been so much better and might have reached more people than I think it did because people love this book. If I had a child I would absolutely read this to them to hope they absorb the message of kindness, even to those who are different. But I’m not going to absorb a lesson I already learned. I’m not going to appreciate a book that tells me something I already know.

Again, I completely agree with you. Auggie’s POV was perfect since he was a normal boy who loved Star Wars and other nerdy things, but just had a facial deformity. Everyone else made no sense to me. I didn’t need their input. And, yes, if I had a kid, I’d suck up my dislike and totally read this to them because it’s a good message. Everyone is normal, even if they don’t look/think/act like you or I. And maybe I would like the book better if I had a family of my own since I know lots of parents like this book. I would want to use it for my kid. But reading it on my own for no real reason? Nope. Not for me.

And it’s a shame since I think the message is a good one.

A book can have well-meaning intentions, as I believe this book did, but poorly execute them which this book also did.

It’s just not a good way to show a message. Even if we agree with the heart of the story, that Auggie is a normal kid, Palacio did the exact opposite. I got about 60% into the book and I just felt like I was getting hammered over and over again that Auggie was weird. And, from what Chantel is telling me, the last 40% didn’t change its tone.

Nobody wants constant reminders that they are different because they are fully aware of why they are different. Throughout the book, Auggie grew on me as a character because he was the only character I cared about. I wanted to read about what HE thought and what HE experienced and what it was about him that made him normal in a world constantly telling him he’s not normal. Guess what, Auggie was charming, he was annoying, he shouted when it wasn’t necessary, he threw hissy fits like a normal ten-year-old would. This book should’ve been his story alone and I don’t feel it was.

And I agree with you there. It was everyone else’s story. Literally.

One thought on “Wonder by R.J. Palacio

  1. Pingback: January Wrap-Up | BW Book Reviews

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