Inch Deep, Mile Wide: A Review of Wonder

By Joanne Sobieck-Lingg

I want to claim that I like to read everything, but that is a library lie (lie-braryterrible, sorry). Working in a library is a great job for someone who is curious (or nosy), but we all have our favorite genre. I’ll admit, I’m not the strongest nonfiction reader, particularly in useful topics like automotive repair, finance, and yes, even some health areas. I’m one of those people who just has an easier time learning about things when they are in the form of a story. I also really, really like fiction (especially books for teens). Anyway, my awesome, 11-year-old nephew recommended a book to me called Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  And, when I finally got around to reading it, I learned much indeed.

It is the story of Auggie Pullman a remarkable kid born with, according to Palacio, “a severe form of Treacher-Collins syndrome complicated by cleft lip and palate and some other unknown mysterious syndrome that makes his particular condition a medical wonder. ” He is physically deformed to a degree that many people find shocking. His parents have home-schooled him in an effort to protect Auggie from others’ often hurtful reactions to his physical appearance. However, the book begins with his parents’ decision to have him start 5th grade at Beecher Prep because they feel he is going to have to face the world at some point and might even enjoy the company of kids his age. Auggie is reluctant at first though he longs to be treated as an ordinary kid, but many of his new classmates can’t get past his appearance. Then again, a few start to surprise him, and he even begins to surprise them and himself a bit too.

I found this book to be quite moving. And, though the medical stuff is handled very gently and plays an important role in this book, it is the anti-bullying message and the general statement about how remarkable humans, particularly children, are that resonate the most. This book also alerted me to the fact that we appear to be living in an era when courage and kindness are much more prevalent than we might think. A colleague and I were discussing the book, and we felt that Palacio keeps her characters authentic. We were also struck that, generally speaking, kids today seem much more tolerant and sensitive than when we were growing up. The moments of bravery and friendship ring absolutely true. That is not to say,  that there aren’t moments of heartbreak and cruelty (yes, consider this a warning).

I also love how Palacio not only tells the story from Auggie’s point of view, but also tells part of the story from classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. The changing perspectives add detail and emotion, and keep the book from becoming too insular. In effect, Auggie’s story is not just his own, but, like all of us, his story is shared with each person his life touches. I think anyone could benefit by having their lives touched by Auggie too.

After serving 2+ years helping to launch, coordinate, and edit the Well & Wise blog, Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is happy turn those duties over to Jessica (JP) Protasio and just blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, and teacher, but she has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.