Posts Tagged ‘Wonder’

My book club chose Wonder for our next discussion, and I thought Easter afternoon and evening was a good time to relax with a book. It’s written for kids, so I finished it in two short sittings. It’s meant to be “feel-good” and I guess it is, to a point. I get that for kids it’s meant to illustrate the importance of caring about who people are and not what they look like. And its a well told story.

The hero is August, a boy with multiple genetic health issues that cause him to have a deformed face. When the book opens, his parents have let him know he’s going to school – due to his many surgeries and complex medical care, he has homeschooled thus far. He’ll enter middle school in fifth grade. His sister is starting high school.

The book follows August’s travails as he tries to feel normal, and his sister’s as she tries to adjust to changing dynamics with childhood friends and as she enjoys not being the girl with the deformed brother, since no one in her new school knows about August. There are some chapters from the siblings’ friends’ points of view, too.

The parents are sweet, the teachers are benign, kind friends are very kind, the nasty kids are mean without being too awful and their parents are mean too. And rich – the book definitely makes the “average” working people seem nicer than entitled people, which feels likely enough in the story but really is just another stereotype. I don’t see how teaching kids that middle class people are kind and rich people are mean is helpful.

I kept trying to consider what a kid would think as they read Wonder. There is plenty to like – everyone has probably felt some of the discomforts August feels in terms of friendships and school social pecking order. But is that the message? See, this seriously medically challenged kid is just like you? Because he’s not. He loses enough hearing to need hearing aids during the book – and he’s only ten. Left unsaid is the long road ahead, health wise. Or maybe this condition causes early death?

Right, that’s not subject matter for a kids’ book. I get that. The story dances around how much August’s sister struggles with being the well kid in the family. And how people who don’t know August are potentially a danger to him. Those topics are at least introduced, and in that way the book is nuanced enough to appeal to older kids and happy enough to share with younger ones. Theres a subplot about the family dog that seemed like it was inserted just to add an additional emotional mini arc in the story.

To me this book seems to have left out many things that felt like they were just on the edge of the story. The financial and emotional strain such a medical condition would cause anyone in America, where our health system is expensive and labyrinthine. The strain on a marriage and friendships having a seriously medically challenged child may cause. The fact that its really unlikely such a school with a kind principal and close community would be right in someone’s neighborhood. Again, not children’s book material, but where my mind went.

Five years on the bestseller list, though – and lots of schools incorporate it into their curriculum. I suppose even a fairly oversimplified lesson about kindness is better than none. Just know that it may not feel as feel-good as advertised if you’re apt to think about how August and his family would get along in a less open-minded place with fewer doctors than New York. Which is what I thought about.

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