‘Wonder,’ by R.J. Palacio, and Writerly Aspects (I think I made up the word, ‘writerly,’ but who cares. I like it.)

 

Summary: August Pullman has never been to school before – his mother home-schooled him through the fourth grade. Now, he is starting fifth grade at Beecher Preparatory in New York. He is used to the staring, pointing, and sometimes screaming when he is out in public, but this will be different. He will see the same group of kids and interact with them day after day. Will they point and stare? Will they talk about him behind his back? August is sure that they will. What he doesn’t know is how it will happen, and how they, and he, will change. Oh yeah, Auggie has a severe facial deformity. “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

Something unique in the style of this book is that we get a variety of perspectives / points of view. Sometimes Auggie is telling his story, and sometimes we learn about him and other people in his life from the narrative of his friend, Summer, his sister, Via, or from Jack, who started off as a friend, became a bully, and then was a friend again, and we even see a series of emails between parents and the school’s director. The author’s style choice worked well to help the reader experience a broader spectrum of the issue at hand. The style makes the book become a book about an entire community, which is effective given the theme of bullying, and community / family responses to it.
The reason the style worked was because Palacio was consistent in her writing. Though the first narrative shift did take me out of my reading pace at first, wondering what was going on, the specific voices given to each character pulled me right back in and got me on board. For example, in the chapters told from Via’s boyfriend, Justin’s point of view, even the typing is in his teenager style, with no capitalizations in the text. Also, Justin’s voice has a very casual flow, exemplified by the lack of breaking up paragraphs by dialog, and just having him speak in a this-is-what-happened kind of way, like on page 198 in a scene where Justin is walking Jack to the bus stop, and they run into some bullies from Jack and Auggie’s school:
you should tell your teacher about that.
jack looks at me like i’m an idiot and shakes his head.
anyway, you have all these neutrals, i say, pointing to the list. if you get them on your side, things will even up a bit.
yeah, well, that’s really going to happen, he says sarcastically.
why not?
he shoots me another look like i am absolutely the stupidest guy he’s ever talked to in the world.
what? i say.
he shakes his head like i’m hopeless. Let’s just say, he says, i’m friends with someone who isn’t exactly the most popular kid in the school.

It was important to me, as a reader, that Palacio did have a majority of the book in Auggie’s point of view, because as he was the protagonist, I felt most connected to him. One of the stylistic consistencies is that Palacio does have chapters with Auggie’s voice doing the narrating sprinkled in between chapters that are in other characters’ voices. This helped to focus the emotive experience of the novel.
Another non-traditional aspect of the style is how Palacio formulates the chapters. Some of the chapters are only a couple of paragraphs long. Some are a page or two, some longer, depending on the emotive experience of a scene. To aid in this, the chapters are not numbered. Sometimes they are named by the most important event in that scene, like “Packing,” or, “The Fairgrounds,” but other times, the title is the specific detail that affects the emotive experience of that chapter, like “Swtiching Tables,” or, the chapter title may be an important question, like “”Why I Didn’t Sit with August the First Day of School” The titles of the chapters match the voice of the character who is narrating, and focus on an event that is most important to how that narrator experiences August, if the chapter is not one in August’s point of view.
Palacio breaks the rules in all of the right ways, and the result is a novel potent with emotive experience. I would recommend Wonder for a great experience in human connection, and a learning tool for young people to be exposed to what makes us different as people, and what makes us the same.

 

Palacio, R.J. Wonder. New York: Random House, Inc. 2012.

2 thoughts on “‘Wonder,’ by R.J. Palacio, and Writerly Aspects (I think I made up the word, ‘writerly,’ but who cares. I like it.)

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