Wonder by R.J. Palacio: Why “kid” books are my new favorite summer read

So many books aimed at adults are so heavy and negative. 

I know there are exceptions to this rule, but too many best sellers focus on pain, drugs, violence, and other assorted crimes and scariness – I’m surprised people can sleep at night.

After having kids I decided I couldn’t stomach reading about yet another body found in a river, so I focused solely on my nonfiction addiction, my beloved books from the self-help section.

But now that my daughters are getting older, I’m getting exposed to some great “kid” books, books that remind me why I fell in love with reading.

The books are fictional, but they tend to be focused on self discovery and personal understanding, the kind of stories that make you think and stick with you for days.

Yes, there is drama and hardship, but you can usually count on an ending that encourages respect for self and others, messages that I wish more adults had the opportunity to experience.

Yesterday I had the luxury of many hours to myself and I read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a book that’s been sitting on my counter for weeks, a book I was hoping my 5th grader would read.

But instead I read it, and I am so thankful for the experience.

Wonder is about a boy who is born with a chromosomal issue that results in facial abnormalities.  It tells his story of starting a new school and how he copes with his discomfort and the discomfort everyone else feels when they experience him (it initially reminded me a little bit of the movie Mask). 

But to my joy it didn’t end there – the boy named August tells his story from his perspective, and then we are allowed into the minds of several people he encounters, family members and friends. 

You get to see how one person impacts the other, how we can’t make assumptions about how people feel, and how everyone experiences pain, regardless of what they have or what they look like.

Olivia, the sister who is initially described as easy going and beautiful, feels the pain of being an afterthought in her family, almost forgotten because of the overwhelming attention paid to her brother. 

Her words speak for so many kids who have siblings with special needs, the kids who always say they are “fine” because they can’t fathom asking for more when their parents are already giving so much to somebody else.

I loved Summer, a friend to August and a girl who demonstrates what it means to be kind.  Her own life experiences have taught her empathy and compassion, and at a young age she knows that being “popular” means nothing if you have to sacrifice who you are.

And Jack, the boy who is initially asked to pay special attention to August, but then realizes he has found a true friend, someone who makes him laugh, accepts him for who he is, and teaches him what it really means to be brave.

She never tells her own story in the book, but the descriptions of August’s mom were true and relatable, a woman who is trying to hold it together and keep a smile on her face. 

A woman who wants to walk her son through his pain, but realizes she must stand back so he can face the world on his own terms. 

At one point Olivia finds her mom standing outside of August’s room, just looking at the doorknob, but not going in. 

How many of us have stood outside our child’s door, hoping that we are doing it right, hoping that we aren’t messing them up, hoping that they know how much they are loved and adored.

I could understand and appreciate every character, the decent ones, and even the not so decent ones. 

Differences can cause fear, and fear can feel overpowering; it can cause us to make poor choices and forget our connectedness. 

Without ruining a thing I can say that Wonder reminds us how deeply we are connected, how we all affect each other, and how regardless of appearances, we are all essentially the same.

And with this book forever in my memory, I already started my next summer “kid” read, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

I’m already hooked, so stay tuned.

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