If I were able to choose one book to send back in time to my younger-self that book would be Wonder. Perhaps reading this book as a preteen would have given me the right perspective to help me overcome my discomfort around people who are physically disabled. Perhaps if I had read this book when I was in fifth grade I would have understood that my paralyzed, wheelchair-bound classmate was not that different than myself and perhaps I would have shed my discomfort and gone over to befriend her. At least, I would like to think so.
Wonder puts us in the head of eleven year-old Auggie Pullman who, after years of surgery, is about to attend school for the first time. Auggie is nervous because he knows that the kids will laugh and stare, and maybe even run away. It happens all of the time. Even after all of the surgeries, his deformed features tend to startle, and sometimes frighten, both children and adults. But now Auggie is ready to give school a try and perhaps show the other kids that inside he really is just like them.
After Wonder introduces us to Auggie and allows us get to know him a bit, it then switches to the point of view of Auggie's older sister who struggles with her own adjustments to high school and to creating for herself an identity independent of her younger brother. The narration also switches between several of Auggie's new classmates who describe their experiences interacting with Auggie, before returning back to the point of view of Auggie himself. Normally I don't like it when a story is handed around to so many different narrators but it worked very well in this situation, providing us with a better understanding of the different characters involved and their interactions with Auggie.
With all of the stories circulating about bullying I had expected Wonder to be a bit darker than it was but it turned out to be a sweet and heartwarming story. While there are a few bullies who take pleasure in picking on Auggie there are also those kids who reach out to befriend him and who realize just how funny and fun Auggie really is. Auggie is also surrounded by a warm and loving family who do their best to guide and protect him. By the end Auggie does manage to convince his fellow schoolmates to overlook his differences and to see him as he really is, and as one of them.
I think Wonder conveys a really important message for kids about looking under the surface and not judging others strictly by their looks. It give children a protagonist that they can relate to and sympathize with, especially in the face of adversity. It makes them want to be the kid who stands by Auggie's side, not the one ridiculing him, and hopefully it will make them rethink similar real-life situations. I would like to think that this would have been my reaction if I had read the book when I was a kid though even as an adult the book's message is one that I will be holding on to.