The Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Having been on the run lately and stressed out due to work pressures, I haven’t really had the time to finish a book. I have started plenty of them, but not managed to finish a single one up until now. It can be hard to focus on the book in hand when you have gazillion thoughts running through your head, each of which demands equal attention. One of the perks of being a teacher is, that you are forced to step out of your comfort zone, constantly expose yourself to new material under time pressure just so that you can deliver quality lessons to your students.

I was forced to read this book ‘The Wonder’ by R. J. Palacio in under a day for one of my students. I started off believing this is going to be a stressful read as I will have to come up with thought provoking questions at the end of it for her to practice. This was the least of my concerns as though the language is simple and it is easy to read, every short chapter in this book will provoke thoughts, raise questions and arouse empathy in you that didn’t exist before.

We live in a world where divergence is looked down upon. Staying in shape, grooming, neatness, presentation- all of it has taken precedence. First impressions have taken large scale importance and in a world where you can either make it or break it, first few minutes is all you have to impress anyone in life. Few (if you are lucky, more) would wait to find out what qualities you are made of, wait for you to shine through the dirt. I fear for the future born into a culture where eating disorders, sexual objectification, extreme individualism, prejudice, racism, intolerance, bullying, isolation is becoming common place.

Luckily for some students, this book has been chosen as a part of the curriculum. The beauty of this book is that it touches on a lot of relevant themes, themes that are best fit of adolescent. In just a handful of pages the author addresses issues like bullying, tolerance, acceptance, looking beyond appearance, faith, friendship, struggles, health (physical and mental), the education system, growth, etc. This story revolves around the child (August) who was born with severe facial deformities and owing to a lot of surgeries and health issues he was home schooled up until the age of 10. His parents make the hard decision of eventually sending him to middle school despite the fact that his appearance is unpleasant (I hate to say this) and there is a huge risk of him facing rejection. This story helps us understand the journey of this boy as he finishes his first academic year (I will refrain from sharing details) from different perspectives. At the same time we get a sneak peek into the lives of other people.

From parents who condemned the presence of this child in the school, a girl caught in the middle of her parents divorce, another boy who comes from a poor background, but going to a school where majority of his classmates hail from affluent background, bullies who turn protectors, friends who stand up despite losing face in front of other friends, a girl who didn’t care about what the school thought and chose to befriend a physically deformed boy, a father and a middle school director who constantly use humor to save awkward moments and a mother who makes difficult decisions despite being plagued by constant fear and worry. What I love about this story is that we also get to see the struggles through the eyes of August’s sister. We see how she matures faster without receiving any acknowledgement for it, showers her brother with unconditional love, fights for his sake, worries about her social standing-if her new high school friends find out about her brother and feeling an overwhelming amount of guilt for it.

Another take away from this book is  Mr. Browne, who introduces the concept of precepts and through which he sows the seeds of kindness. His methods are not direct, he at no point tells the children what to do, he sets examples, he introduces ideas and just waits for them to grow with the children, which eventually do. I haven’t yet seen a book that beautifully illustrates the problems faced by children on a daily basis in school. It is a good read for educators because it helps them understand the dynamics between children, to help them look below the surface, look for strengths even when they don’t seem to exist, give opportunities to children and best of all learn when not to intervene and let children figure things out for themselves.

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