A Change of Heart

This week I wanted to write a short blog, and this morning I thought I had it:

STEPPING ON HOT WHEELS STINKS!!!!

But as I was re-bandaging the cut on the bottom of my foot, I realized that a short negative blog is kind of lame. So instead, I will leave you with three incredibly positive things in my life right now . . . and then a book review, of course.

  1. My son’s giggles
  2. My daughter’s persistence
  3.  My husband’s dedication

This week’s review is Wonder by R.J. Palacio:

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I started Wonder with an open mind. It came recommended, once again, from my mother who is a children’s librarian. By recommended, she meant that she hadn’t had a chance to read it because every copy was always checked out . . . by actual kids, not adults catching up on the latest middle-grade book craze.

My first thoughts were . . . I LOVE IT! The way R.J. Palacio tells the narrative from different character’s perspectives is interesting. The central character, Auggie, a boy with a genetic disorder that leaves him with a deformed face, is easy to like. He has been homeschooled his entire life, but finds the courage to start going to public school in fifth grade. Auggie is always true to himself and keeps shattering people’s notions of how he should be, simply by being himself, and there is inspiration in that. My favorite part, though, is that the middle school and teenaged kids in the book actually speak and act their age. So many books in this genre have characters that sound and act like they are in their 30s, spewing wisdom and offering their philosophical advice, which no teenager honestly sounds like. (Unless that teenage philosopher lives in Dawson’s creek, I suppose.)

But as I came to the end of the book, and the emotions and message sank in, I felt disappointed in some ways. Everything started to go a bit too smoothly. I wanted to know if I was the only one who felt this way about this extremely popular book. So I headed to Amazon to read a few reviews. Wonder has 7,340 reviews on Amazon, with 89% being five stars. It has zero one-star reviews, and only 1% are two or three-star. Sadly, I put myself in with the 1% that gave it three stars.

Wonder really is a good book, and it has a great message of acceptance and loyalty–especially for people with special needs. However, I laughed out loud when I read one review that called it “inspiration porn”, and I can’t say that I disagree. Because in the real world, as unfortunate as it is, bullying exists. It exists everywhere, at every school. And 99% of the time, it doesn’t end with [SPOILER ALERT!!!] a standing ovation for the person being bullied.

Do I recommend Wonder? Yes. Because writing middle-grade books is tough. The age is tough, and it’s incredibly difficult to be sincere without sounding cheesy. I love what the principal says during the fifth-grade graduation:

” . . . I think it has more to do with the particular age that you are right now, this particular moment in your lives that, even after twenty years of my being around students this age, still moves me. Because you’re at the cusp, kids. You’re at the edge between childhood and everything that comes after. You’re in transition.”

During Principal Tushman’s (love the name) speech there is also a great quote from J.M. Barrie’s book The Little White Bird:

“Shall we make a new rule of life . . . always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”

This message of kindness and tolerance flows throughout the book, and I think it is an important one. In that regard, Wonder is an excellent book. It can, however, ride that fine line between sincerity and stereotypical cliche. Even a great story has to come to a logical conclusion, but this one left me feeling let down.

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