By: R.J. Palacio
Published: February 14, 2012
I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?
A lot of times, the cover alone is what draws me to a book. That was the case for this book. I purchased it at our school Scholastic book sale because the cover and synopsis intrigued me. I have boys that are 11 and 12 and I work at our middle school/high school, so I am familiar with how cruel kids can be. I wanted to see how the author tackled this delicate subject and how realistic she portrayed the classmates. This is Palacio's first novel and I will be watching for future ones from her.
This story broke my heart and as a mom, I tried to imagine myself in the mom's position. Would I have been brave enough to send him "like a lamb to slaughter" as his dad said, or decide it was time he was in the "real world"? For many years, Auggie was protected by his family on outings and his face was only shown when necessary. He wore an astronaut helmet, a hat, or kept his hair long to hide himself from the public. When others saw him, their expressions ranged from shock to horror. The doctor himself fainted when Auggie was born. This type of facial deformation is beyond my imagination and reading stories like this make me appreciate that we were blessed with healthy children. Auggie is a bright and witty child quick with a one-liner and once he had the chance to be himself, others fell in love with him. But, do we give kids like Auggie that chance? One of my favorite lines from Auggie in the book is when he is meeting some students from his new school and one of the asks why he hasn't gotten plastic surgery. Auggie replied, "This is after surgery!". This was the perfect way to lighten the mood and show Auggie's true personality.
The book is told through short chapters and in parts told from each character's perspective. The story flows quickly and gives you everyone's perspective which I appreciated. I think my favorite section was from Auggie's teenage sister, Via (short for Olivia). Via has always been Auggie's biggest fan, but as she begins high school she wants to be known as Olivia, not as Auggie's sister. I appreciated how honest the author showed Olivia's fears and desires to have a life separate from Auggie, as well as the changes that happen to friends once high school begins.
How often do we judge others by their appearance? My sister-in-law sees this every day in her work with the homeless. I know I have been guilty of looking first at the appearance of someone before approaching them. In the book, Auggie wonders what the world would be like if we all wore masks and got to know each other before we knew what we looked like. Wouldn't this be a fun experiment to try?!
In the story, Jack was one of the children chosen by the Principal to welcome Auggie to the new school. Not all of the chosen kids took their job as seriously as Jack did and really did like Auggie. Unfortunately, he makes a mistake in the story and hurts Auggie deeply. Again, I felt like Jack was any number of kids I know, struggling between being in the "cool" crowd and being "real". Adults have a hard enough time struggling with making the right choices and Jack really came through. I want my kids to be like Jack.
This book was filled with solid, moral lessons. I will be having my boys read this and should be required reading for all middle school kids AND parents, in my opinion. The story of Auggie is a lesson in itself, but how he relates to our reality is what really opened my eyes. There will always be jerks in the world, people who don't get it and never will, but as long as the number of good people outweigh the number of bad, the good will always win. At least, I am hoping that is the kind of world I am living in.
"Wherever you are, whenever you can, try to act kinder than is necessary." Page 301