Three Wonders of the World

Auggie & Me: Three Wonder StoriesAuggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This collection of three novellas is a must for anyone who read and enjoyed Palacio’s debut novel, Wonder . The story of Auggie Pullman touched millions and in this book, three of the characters whose lives were affected by Auggie in different ways are the protagonists. After being so moved by Wonder, I was sceptical about reacting in the same way to these stories. If anything, these are even more moving because we are able to see deep into these characters’ minds and emotions.
“The Julian Chapter” centres on Auggie’s nemesis, Julian Albans. In his introduction to this book, Palacio explains this was a story he had to write. Many of the letters he received after writing Wonder were about how mean Julian was to Auggie. Readers wrote asking why he had to be that way. Palacio decided he had better tell them. The story that unfolds lifts the lid on Julian’s home life, and his past. His bullying behaviour in the first book is not glossed over, nor is it excused. What the reader does get is a keen insight as to how this kind of behaviour can happen, and how it can so easily get out of control. We meet Julian’s paternal grandmother, a Frenchwoman who loves her grandson, but doesn’t let him get away with anything. It is she who draws the Auggie saga out of Julian and tells him an unforgettable story that will change him, and the reader, forever. Julian is still not a likeable character – he is spoilt, childish and over-indulged by his parents – but by the end of his chapter there is hope he is becoming a more sensitive human being.
“Pluto” is Christopher’s story. Auggie’s long-standing friend who has moved away, has been affected by his relationship with Auggie all his life. The reader is taken back to the first time Christopher really understood how different his friend is. We see him creating a world that is safe and reliable for Auggie – and we see how hard it has been for him sometimes. It is clear there are moments when Christopher struggles with being Auggie’s mate. He sometimes feels resentment when his mother helps out Isabel and Nate (Auggie’s parents) and then his own family moves away, he resents having to keep in touch with Auggie – when all he wants to do is develop his new friendships and play in the after-school rock band. All the way through this story the one thing that shines through again and again is Christopher’s gentle good nature. He is a kind person and coming straight after Julian’s story it really stands out.
The last story, “Shingaling”, is perhaps the most revealing. Charlotte Cory who, along with Julian, and Jack Wall was asked to befriend Auggie when he started middle school, is living through a time of change. As well as meeting Auggie, she is going through something many girls face – friendship group changes. She talks about the “boy war” that started after the winter break in Wonder – where the boys all took sides for or against Auggie after Jack Wall hit Julian. Charlotte’s best friend, Ellie, has moved on to the “popular” group and now Charlotte is trying to find her way to a new friendship group. There is pressure for Charlotte to declare herself on the “right” side of the war and she refuses to do so, which just makes the girls more agitated than they already are. Charlotte, Ellie and some of the other girls audition for a prestigious dance production at school and Charlotte, Summer (Auggie’s close friend) and Ximena (a “popular” girl) are chosen. These girls don’t have much in common on the surface, but as they talk to each other, they discover there is a lot of common ground. Once the girls learn more about one another, they become friends, although none of them really publicise the fact at school – there is still a political balance to worry about. Charlotte’s journey through the friendship minefield is something MANY readers will instantly recognise. What the reader learns by reading this story is that everyone is struggling with something– in fact that is the overarching theme in all of these stories.
The quote Palacio uses at the beginning of “The Julian Chapter” really sums up what his book is trying to say:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” – Ian Maclaren.
Every middle school student should read this book, heck, every human being should read this book.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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Wonder-Full

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For me, this book is all about page 270. I can’t tell you what happens, except to say it is a moment that literally made tears spring to my eyes.
R.J. Palacio has written a beautiful story. A story about pain, about love, about hardship, about forgiveness, and a story full of hope.
August (Auggie) Pullman has been an outsider all his short life. Born with life-altering facial abnormalities due to a series of genetic misfortunes, he has been home-schooled by his doting mother, until it is time for Middle School. Now he is enrolled at Beecher Prep and is thrust into the swirling waters of junior high school. Auggie is an engaging protagonist. Not only is he intelligent, he is also witty and courageous. He knows how people react to his appearance, to the very last tic or sideways glance. Many find it hard to look him in the eye, let alone talk to and interact with him. Julian, a boy full of his own importance thanks to superficial parents, is one student who is not prepared to make Auggie’s life easy at school. Julian uses his considerable social influence to directly and indirectly bully and torment Auggie on a daily basis. To his credit, Auggie stands up to this pretty well because he doesn’t really care what Julian thinks of him.
Auggie has a few friends at school by the time his birthday rolls around and his friends sustain him – until he accidentally hears one of them, Jack, speaking badly of him behind his back. It is clear that Auggie values truth and loyalty in his friends most of all, and Jack has to work hard to eventually win back Auggie’s trust.
There are other relationships going through rocky times in this novel. Auggie’s Mum is struggling with his growing independence and not sharing every second of his day, and she struggles with Auggie’s older sister, Via, for similar reasons as Via starts Senior High School. Via has her own problems as her old circle of friends rejects her and she is forced to strike out on her own to find a new group to hang out with. Via is also highly protective of her brother and is there to offer him some good advice about how the politics of the school ground work.
Having the different characters tell part of the story worked well, particularly as the reader is able to see the various conflicts in the novel from different points of view – a point about empathy being well-made without ramming it down the reader’s throat.
Auggie’s resilience, the loyalty of his small group of friends, and his loving, supportive family make this a book with irresistible appeal. When Auggie finally makes it to the school camp that will change everything (a la page 270), we are totally with them, and rooting for Auggie all the way. The ending made me feel happy, and proud of the characters. I can’t tell you, spoilers, but I think it will make you feel that way too.
This book has been a huge hit at my school and across the globe, and now I know why. It teaches the young people reading it that life, even when it feels terrible and there are things about your life you can’t change no matter how much you wish you could, does get better – you just have to give it time and have self-belief. It’s a great message, really well communicated. It’s wonder-ful.
For ages 10 and up.

True stories are sometimes the hardest to tell

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Arnold Spirit, or Junior as he prefers to be known, is a Native American teenager living on a reservation. He is skinny, wears glasses, and has a chequered medical history which includes having water on the brain as an infant. He is beaten up on a regular basis because he is considered too different, sometimes by people twice his age. He accepts this as the normal way of things on the “rez” and is very matter-of-fact as he tells the reader about it. This makes the abuse even more disturbing and confronting to read.

Junior, does, however, possess a well-developed sense of humour and loves to draw cartoons to help him make sense of his life and the world. These cartoons are part of the novel. Things start to change (and not necessarily for the better) when Junior starts at the rich white school off the rez, about 22 miles away. Junior endures what many kids the same age could not – countless beatings, alcoholic parents, a lack of food, exhausting walks to and from school when there is not enough pertol money to drive him, and the deaths of friends and family around him. What shines through constantly is his spirit. This book is sometimes hard to read, but it is worth sticking with it to the end because it ends on a note of hope.

Sometimes, people are mysteries

Colin FischerColin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Colin has Asperger’s Syndrome. It is important to get that out of the way, because this is not just about Asperger’s. It is also about the other people in the life of an Asperger’s sufferer. Family, friends, teachers – all figure in this mystery novel starring Colin as the detective.
Colin has just started high school and it has not been going well. “Flushed” on his first day by Wayne Connelly – it doesn’t look good for Colin. He makes notes about everyone and assesses people’s emotional state using a set of “smile flash cards”. You get the picture. At home, he has a supportive set of parents, especially his Dad who seems slightly bemused about everything most of the time. His brother Danny is resentful of all the extra attention Colin gets, but overall they are a loving family unit.
The mystery kicks into gear when a shot is fired in the cafeteria. The gun is dropped and perpetrator escapes, leaving everyone to wonder who it was. All the circumstantial evidence points to Colin’s nemesis, Wayne, but Colin is not convinced and sets out to prove Wayne’s innocence in the face of opposition from everyone except the breathtakingly beautiful Melissa. Now, I do not believe in spoilers so you won’t get much more out of me here, but it is fair to say that cake and crocodiles come into play as the investigation continues.
This is a delight from beginning to end. Colin is a three-dimensional character suffering from Asperger’s, but not defined by it. I actually imagine that he would have been the type of guy I would have found fascinating at school. The teachers, particularly the sports teacher, Mr Turrentine, are fabulous. I really believed the sports lessons where he would not allow Colin to sit out because he was afraid of the basketball. I loved Mr Turrentine, and it appears the author did too because part of the dedication is to the “real” Mr Turrentine. Dr Doran, the principal is also really cool and immensely accommodating of Colin’s investigation. Melissa is lovely and Wayne the bully is proof that still waters sometimes run very deep.
A great read that reminded me in parts of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, but also gave me lots of new things to enjoy.
Definitely for ages 13 and up.