On Bullying and ADHD: Wonder by RJ Palacio

To follow-up on Tuesday’s post “Populate Your Mental Landscape: Surround Yourself with Positive People,” I would like to introduce you to the book (and kid hero!) I’ve recently fallen in love with. Wonder by RJ Palacio will populate your mental landscape with a character who will make you cheer, cry, laugh, and perhaps get a little angry about how he’s treated at times. Which character in particular? 10-year-old August “Auggie” Pullman.

Wonder by RJ Palacio
Recently our culture has taken on an issue that I keep close to my heart as a writer of children’s stories, who, like all of us, has survived the trials and tribulations of middle school. The issue I’m referring to is, of course, bullying.

When the in-house buzz about Wonder reached me, I had to give this book a try. To pluck a quote from KirkusReviews.com, here’s a quick blurb of what you can expect from this title:
After being homeschooled for years, Auggie Pullman is about to start fifth grade, but he’s worried: How will he fit into middle-school life when he looks so different from everyone else?

Auggie has had 27 surgeries to correct facial anomalies he was born with, but he still has a face that has earned him such cruel nicknames as Freak, Freddy Krueger, Gross-out and Lizard face. Though “his features look like they’ve been melted, like the drippings on a candle” and he’s used to people averting their eyes when they see him, he’s an engaging boy who feels pretty ordinary inside. He’s smart, funny, kind and brave, but his father says that having Auggie attend Beecher Prep would be like sending “a lamb to the slaughter.” Palacio divides the novel into eight parts, interspersing Auggie’s first-person narrative with the voices of family members and classmates, wisely expanding the story beyond Auggie’s viewpoint and demonstrating that Auggie’s arrival at school doesn’t test only him, it affects everyone in the community. Auggie may be finding his place in the world, but that world must find a way to make room for him, too.

A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder.
My reaction to this book is similar to the one I had to Arthur Slade’s The Hunchback’s Assignments and Alan Bradley’s Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (By now, you probably know how much I gush over those series!). I fell for our kid hero, who is uniquely flawed.

What I’m coming to realize is that I value characters whose vulnerabilities make them realistic and empathetic, but also different.

The saying goes that...
An iron door found in Prague. Photo from my spring 2012 trip.
The same goes for literature and the literary arts. Too often, being “different” goes hand in foot with being bullied and then isolated because you can’t quite fit in with the other “normal” kids.

If you need any further convincing of Wonder’s caliber, you need only to turn to this New York Times’ review by Maria Russo, which describes:
Perhaps Palacio’s most remarkable trick is leaving us with the impression that Auggie’s problems are surmountable in all the ways that count — that he is, in fact, in an enviable position.
What books have touched you or made you see yourself (or others) differently?