Have you ever felt like a bunch of independent things were coming together to take you in a single direction? I have. Weird, isn’t it?
Sometime this last fall, Amazon and the New York Times started mentioning “Wonder” as one of the middle-grade books of the moment. “Something special,” they said. Its blue-and-white cover was prominently displayed on the shelves of my local bookstore. Now, these entities know a fair amount about books but I don’t like being told what to read and bookstores always say they have something special when they want to grab more of my money. Then my sister (the teacher) insisted I had to read Wonder because of its narrative style By the time literary agents Jaida Temperly and Danielle Barthel cited Wonder as one of the stories middle-grade writers and readers should know, I was ready to surrender. I can resist a fair amount of hype but this felt more like directives from a superior force, pushing me toward the future.
And they were right. Wonder is not just a book kids love reading right now, it’s one they will love to read for years. It’s a book many parents will love. It’s an absolute wonder of a book.
The heart of Wonder is Auggie Pullman, a boy who redefines what “ordinary” “different” and “extraordinary” mean through his story. On the one hand, he’s just one more kid who lives in upper Manhattan. He’s got parents, a sibling, a dog, and a serious addiction to Star Wars. Auggie is smarter than some but not a prodigy. Nevertheless, he stands out in every crowd because a genetic disorder has altered his face. That disorder distracts strangers so they don’t see the terrific kid behind the face. And he is a terrific kid. Even his older sister says as much.
Although the central story in Wonder is Auggie’s, another great thing about the book is how he impacts the lives of kids closest to him, especially his sister, Olivia. We see how she loves and cares for her brother and accepts his needs often come first; we also see (in the reverse of most sibling relationships) how this elder sister longs for her own place in the sun, where she’s not identified and defined by her relationship to Auggie. We see her guilt over these reasonable feelings and how she faces the truth of her own genetic inheritance. We see how Auggie’s not the only brave kid on the page.
Wonder is that most magnificent thing, a fictional story that realistically captures the human spirit. While Auggie is the central character, most of the rest of Wonder’s cast can’t be dismissed as mere heroes and villains. The other characters are people who can make mistakes and are just doing the best they can. And the kids in the book tell their stories in the way that kids talk, with pop culture references and without extra words. No wonder literary agents are holding this book up as a model. It’s a terrific example of “show, don’t tell.”
So yes, this book is a Wonder, and incredibly well-named. It’s won a bunch of prizes, is now the first of a series and the basis for a movie that’s coming soon. And it’s as good as everyone says. When a story worth telling is told so well so it opens hearts, the buzz you hear about it isn’t hype. It’s the trumpet of destiny.