No, really, getting back to the point (man, that was a long digression--you can tell what things are like in my brain these days!)--this book is AWESOME. This is a brilliant, tender story about a kid who is struggling with social acceptance because of a significant facial deformity. In the novel, we encounter August Pullman just as he's on the brink of entering school for the first time. His mom had homeschooled him throughout elementary school, but he joins a private school when he's ten years old, and the novel follows his first year at the school beginning with the conversation his family first has about attending and moving through the end of year events.
This is a novel that's geared toward middle school, and it would resonate there because so many students struggle with social pressures and self-image. However, people at my school have taught it at the eleventh grade level and have found great success there, as well, because the students enjoy the tenderness and accessibility of the story, and they are able to read it relatively quickly on their own without support. Because of the storyline and reading level, it's a novel that could cover a pretty wide age range.
What I love about this book:
It tackles complex issues with compassion and awareness.
It has multiple narrators. There's nothing I like more in a book than when an author effectively shows the story from multiple sides. Palacio does an excellent job of showing how the main character's facial deformity impacts not only his life, but also the lives of the people around him. The narrators include August himself, a couple of his friends, his sister, and even his sister's boyfriend. Each person approaches the situations from such different directions that it makes the book even more fascinating.
The narrators talk about things that make people uncomfortable with tenderness and love. (I've noticed while writing this that I'm uncomfortable even writing about a deformity of any kind, and yet that discomfort is part of what makes Auggie's life so challenging, which Palacio shows so well.)
It's accessible, both with its reading level and with its straightforward approach toward difficult issues.
The love that Auggie's parents have for him is boundless. One of my favorite quotes is what his father says to him about a time when he was younger and wore a helmet everywhere he went: "“You were wearing that helmet all the time. And the real, real, real, real truth is: I missed seeing your face, Auggie. I know you don’t always love it, but you have to understand … I love it. I love this face of yours, Auggie, completely and passionately. And it kind of broke my heart that you were always covering it up.” Oh, man. That's what love really is.
This is also a book about groups and the way that humans inevitably group people as belonging or not belonging. It's a book about TOLERANCE, and the way that tolerance requires accepting people as being like oneself. Though it's been several years since we returned to the States, I remember so clearly that when my husband and I were living in Japan (this seems like a digression, but I promise it's relevant), we read a fascinating article in the Daily Yomiyuri about "inside" and "outside" circles, and the premise of the article was that IF aliens came to Earth, THEN (and ONLY then, the author seemed to say) gai-jin (the Japanese word for foreigners) would become part of the "inside" circle. Though this sounds like satire, the author's tone was serious. He meant it--he was just explaining social dynamics as he saw them. Though, of course, MANY people there accepted and loved me, I did have a sense of being on the "outside" of things many times. The truth is there are those kinds of boundaries drawn here in America (and in our schools) as well, and Auggie is acutely aware of those boundaries because he has spent his life being outside of all of them except for with his family. However, as he becomes part of the school community, his circle grows and other people accept him as "inside" with them.
Overall, this is an awesome book, and it's a great way to talk about some of the other issues that seem to be so omnipresent in our schools today (bullying, isolation, ignoring others, etc.) without having to directly attack each of them. Palacio shows that, when everything is said and done, we're all humans, and we should above all BE KIND.