Book review: Wonder | R. J. Palacio

If you follow any appearance activists, you may have learnt when their stories are told—if ever—they are often told by people who do not have facial differences. As such, they are rarely depicted as valid, whole people who are a variety of things—nice or boring or annoying, just ‘whatever’ human beings, living their lives, having ups and downs, working out relationships, and achieving and/or screwing up decisions. Instead, tropes dominate, from pity, to monster, to bullying, to burden, to teaching others a valuable lesson about kindness and acceptance.

So what do we do with ‘Wonder’—a middle-grade novel—that’s had a sensational run, both as book and now film adaptation? As someone who does not have a facial difference, like the author R. J. Palacio, I was unsure. Eventually, I decided my first step was to seek out the views of those who do have facial differences, to ensure I do not promote a book that may play into harmful stereotypes; to listen and learn.

In that vein, I’m here to promote you do the same: seek out the perspectives of reviewers with facial differences—there are many, some with very positive thoughts and others with negative, by both adults and children—before you decide what to do.

So what can I tell you? It’s about Auggie, a ten-year-old who loves Star Wars, is a bit snarky (ha!), is pretty clever, loves his dog, and has loving parents, and he and his sister sometimes fight and get on each other’s nerves. Basically, Auggie is your run-of-the-mill ten year old. Auggie also happens to have a facial difference, and he’s still your run-of-the-mill ten year old. After being homeschooled, Auggie transitions to mainstream school. His reception is mixed. Over time, he faces bullying, but also friendship. The point of view swaps between characters, which I was concerned may have de-centred his telling of his story and added to his ‘other’-ing.

If you read it, I hope you see Auggie as a full human being. Because, just like all people with facial differences, he is.

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