“If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, wherever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary—the world really would be a better place.”
Mr. Tushman – Section VIII, pg. 301
Nothing can bring people closer together than the act of kindness, and Auggie (August) Pullman tells his story to testify that. Auggie is the main character in the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. The author was inspired to write this novel after her son started to cry when a girl with birth defects came near them. The title of the book is a reference to the song “Wonder” by Natalie Merchant, about a woman who persevered through life in spite of a handicap. The book was published in early 2012, followed by a movie adaptation in 2014.
Auggie is a 10-year-old boy who was born with a genetic mutation called Treacher Collins Syndrome, which affects the structure and development of facial tissues and bones. Because of this, he was subjected to 27 surgeries on his face in an attempt to reconstruct it. Throughout his childhood, he noticed that people looked at him differently, with something like awe, and he grew accustomed to the stares.
His mom homeschooled Auggie up until fourth grade. However, his parents finally decided it was time for him to go to Breecher Prep, a private school. He at first opposed the idea because he was worried kids his age wouldn’t understand conditions like his, but he decided to give it a chance with the support of his parents and his older sister, Via.
Mr. Tushman, the principal at Beecher Prep, helps Auggie to meet three of the students in his grade before the school year begins. He said they were some of the nice kids at school, and they could give Auggie a tour of the school. As they walk around the classrooms, science labs, music room, and theatre, they introduce themselves to one another, their interests, and some school stories. Charlotte and Jack, two of the three giving the tour, were polite. On the other hand, Julian, the third student, was rude, especially when he asked, “What’s the deal with your face? I mean, were you in a fire or something?”.
Auggie tries first to keep a low profile, but a girl sits at his empty table during lunchtime because all the rest are full. She introduces herself as Summer, but Auggie is taken away by her kindness and subtleness. After a while, they decide to call their lunch table the “Summery” table, and they think about other people who have Summery names like theirs.
Halloween comes, which is Auggie’s favorite holiday, and he goes to school dressed up as the Bleeding Scream. Hoping to have a normal day because his face was masked, he finds that the kids in his class are saying horrible things behind his back. Jack is among these kids, but since his face is covered, he doesn’t know that Auggie was listening to him the whole time.
As the story progresses, it dives deeper into the other characters in the story, including Via, Summer, Jack, Justin (Via’s new boyfriend), and Miranda (Via’s friend). Their struggles in the story all tie together into the theme of friendship and kindness.
For instance, Via’s friends begin to distance themselves from her at the beginning of their high school year. Still, we find that Miranda pretended to have a deformed brother during summer camp to gain popularity but could not talk to her because she was embarrassed. However, their friendship did rekindle at the end when Via filled in Miranda’s role at the school play.
During this time, Via and Miranda’s relationship was disconnected, Justin and Via began dating, and she introduced him to Auggie, Daisy (the Pullman’s family dog), and her parents. After Via privately explains Auggie’s condition to Justin, he says he’s not frightened at all. Justin eventually becomes very close to the Pullman family because of their harmonious relationship, unlike his fractured home life.
In Jack’s chapter, it is revealed that he only said those horrible things behind Auggie’s back because he wanted to fit in with the other kids and wanted to remain friends with Julian, who really hated Auggie; however, after he confronts him, they make up and become friends again.
At the end of the story, after more page-turning, emotional and tense events occur, Auggie becomes more popular among his peers, and they become less intimidated by him. On graduation day, Auggie receives the school’s Henry Ward Beecher Medal, which is awarded to students who are exemplary in certain areas. The school awarded Auggie for his friendliness, immense courage, and kindness. His family and friends cheer for him, and after the reception, Jack’s and Summer’s families go to the Pullman’s house to celebrate. As the book closes, Auggie’s mother admires him and whispers to him, “You really are a wonder, Auggie. You are a wonder.”
The Impact of Kindness
Throughout the story, we can learn a lot of important life lessons that relate to the impact of kindness and trusting one another.
Auggie shows us that despite his looks, we shouldn’t be afraid of differences among others and we should look past them. The students at Beecher Prep initially judged him for how he looked, so they ostracized him. But by the end of the story, Auggie becomes one of the popular ones because of his differences. Our differences can make us unique, but they should be celebrated rather than feared or rejected.
We have Auggie’s first friend from Beecher Prep to thank, Summer, who was the first to join him at the lunch table. She decided that it was better not to jump on the bandwagon and joined him because she initially felt sorry for him. After getting to know him for who he is, she was genuinely interested in becoming friends with him rather than trying to fit in by being fake.
Jack reveals that he knew Auggie from when he was around five years old when he saw him near an ice cream shop and was scared of him. His mother convinced him to accept Mr. Tushman’s invitation to meet Auggie before the school year began. He only agreed because he knew middle school kids would give Auggie a difficult time, but similar to Summer, he truly finds Auggie a funny and interesting person. Jack also defends Auggie several times against Julian, while Julian was trying to turn the majority of the kids against him for being friends with Auggie.
Mr. Browne, Auggie’s English teacher, presents the class a precept before the major events unfold in the story. The precept he presents is by Dr. Dyer, “If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”. Mr. Browne’s precept choice reminds us of the importance of being kind and spreading kindness to others, especially young children because they need to know that showing empathy and compassion is not a sign of weakness.
R.J Palacio’s novel is a great story to tell to both young and older people for the wonderful examples set by the characters in the story. Children need to be inspired to choose kindness, and parents need to reinforce its importance, rather than shaking it off for it being a “mean phase.”
World Kindness Day comes around on the 13th of November, and it is celebrated by encouraging the act of kindness to each other, oneself, and the world. So remember to help someone in need, shine a smile, and be kind every day.
Book review was written by Ms. Jumana Raggam