Every now and then, I still pick up a read that keeps me current with the children's and young adult literature that is coming out. This is one of those books that I would have gladly done in my elementary classroom as a class read-aloud. It's rife with topics and issues for discussion, strong enough with images that kids could 'doodle' their mental images of the characters and the story's events after listening to the short 'bullet chapters'.
When young August Pullman heads out to middle school from his cloistered home schooled past, he just wants to be like every other kid at school - ordinary. August, though, has been born with a severe facial deformity that surgeries and therapy have not 'erased'. Auggie stands out when he would dearly love to blend in ... therein, lies the roots for this story of growing up and learning about oneself.
August is such a likable character. Despite his profound facial deformity, he IS just a normal kid. If only others in his world would grasp that fact! Instead, all the pitfalls of negotiating middle school are magnified for him because he can't just 'blend in' while he figures out the 'tween years'. His appearance sets him front and center in his world and getting around that hurdle is his ultimate challenge. In his first year at middle school, he must learn to step away from the sheltering arms of his mom and dad and into a world of kids and adults with varying degrees of kindness, acceptance, pettiness, cruelty, pity, ineptness, social savvy, and on and on. Learning to negotiate his new world, sort through the various personalities, and work on his own self-confidence will make the reader cheer him on and shake their head over August's successes and failures.
The book is narrated by August and various other people in his life ... what develops is a full picture of August's school and family life. It's full of authentic experience, strong feelings and emotions, situations that challenge readers to think about how they act towards others and evaluate their own attitudes about friendship, acceptance of differences between people, respect, self-awareness, family dynamics, and being a mensch in a hard world.
R J Palacio has written a terrific book - her first. It sits right up there next to Maniac Magee or Stargirl or Loser. Jerry Spinelli move over. There's a new girl in town! Be kind and show her the ropes ! I think she's got a few more tales to tell.