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The Emotional Range of a Teaspoon

Bookworms thrive here, in the lair of an OCD... ahem, avid artist and snarky critic who loves Hermione, is in an abusive relationship with anime, and is obsessed with the incorrect use of "good."

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Wonder - R.J. Palacio In one word: Sweet.

Wonder is one of the books that make me wonder about things (sorry, I just had to do that). Like—it’s not a particularly groundbreaking tale. In fact, it doesn’t bring much “new” to the table. It’s easy and quick to read, warms hearts, and has a good message. It’s something that anyone could relate to, so long as they were a child once—change for the better, the minds of teenagers, the struggles we’ve all gone through, peer pressure, confidence, friends. A lot of books touch these subjects, some more masterfully than others. So what is it that makes Wonder popular, with a multitude of books similar to it?

I’ll tell you what I think.

I’d had my eye on the book for awhile, maybe a year, and was always drawn in by the cover. I was kept reading by the characters. Honestly, the characters remind me of myself. Not in their situations, which are quite common, but in the way that they react to them depending on their own particular personalities. Every decision and thought they make comes from their perspective. Nothing that they say or do seems to diverge from their character, life, or age. This is something hard to find in a book filled with generally intelligent kids, all going through things that take maturity to handle (heck, even tolerate). So many authors think that an intelligent, mature kid means one that 100% acts like an adult.

They act like children.

They talk like children (yeah, dude!).

I never doubted that they were, in fact, children.

If you’re reading this review, you probably know the deal about the book—some of it, at least, and are wondering about the rest. To put it in simple terms: Auggie has a facial deformity. That’s all, though. Otherwise he’s pretty normal and pretty cool.

I’ve had two good friends with Down Syndrome (that I can honestly say I liked and respected more than my other “friends”), so the behavior that Auggie had to put up with got under my skin, especially since his narration made it clear that he was awesome. I kept thinking “What a great guy” or “He seems really sweet.” I’d seen it before—just not in such a large, wide-spread way like family or closer friends. It hurt and brought light to other sides and perspectives. I’ve been there, done that, and it made me think of what I’d do if I was looking on the outside: seeing Auggie’s face, being scared and curious and apprehensive…

The growth in Auggie’s character was refreshing and well done. He started apprehensive and scared, his untrusting, insecure nature clear in everything he said. Then he blossomed. Oh, that was a wonderful process. I loved that he whined and cried and grew up and wanted to be independent and less selfish. The little dude’s character seemed three-dimensional because of that. Slowly, his dark world became brighter and brighter until it was filled with pops of color! Yes, yes! Woohoo! But…

But before I go through the rest of the narrators (yes, narrators), I’ve got to say: it’s cliché. Not gritty enough, but perfect for a feel-good story of this caliber, geared towards such an impressionable age group. What about the two-dimensional villains whose side we didn’t get to see? That part was just typical. Everything is expected and has been done before. Sort of like a classic, it seems like this story’s cliché patterns can be overlooked because of how much was put into the story—so much work to make it not tiring.

Still, if you look at any other story similar to this, you’ll see it. Niceness. Nice people, mean people who weren’t really mean who turn nice, nice parents (still, I really like Auggie’s family and his parents are cool, especially in their dialogue and mannerisms), nice family, nice teachers, the usual nice friendship tropes, nicely resolved conflict, nice endings wrapped up in a pretty bow. Oh, and everyone’s nice deep down. This is purposeful, all things considered. And if it wasn’t like this, the story wouldn’t be the same—at all. It wasn’t enough to be called idealized. And it felt real, to a point. But I continued to doubt, looking for some more grittiness, flaws, and depth. This is an overlookable issue if you enjoy the book. I think I prefer the warm, fuzzy feeling I get from Wonder the way it already is.

The characters, particularly the narrators, were all human, all likable, and all cliché. But decently-to-nicely developed. (To clear it up, there were six points of view in all. It sort of surprised me, but it worked pretty well. I don’t think the same effect could have been achieved without a break from Auggie’s perspective.) There was enough difference in their words, however subtle, for me to create a particular voice in my mind. I don’t know if any of the points of view were unneeded, but some were small. I do give the writer credit for stopping at points that didn’t make me want to throw my book at the wall and scream, “WHY DID YOU CHANGE IT NOW?!”

The points of view went through Via (Auggie’s sister), Summer (Auggie’s friend), Miranda (Via’s friend), Justin (Via’s boyfriend), and Jack (Auggie’s friend). And Auggie (duh). They’re juggled pretty tactfully, if I do say so myself, and all add some depth to the story. I think Wonder benefited from this more than it didn’t. It would have been somewhat stifling to stay in Auggie’s head the whole time; he only has his own understanding of events. Seeing the way others saw them made the story more emotional and well-rounded, and added more flaws. I won’t go into all of them, but I found the perspective of Auggie’s friends and sister to be the most imperative of all. It showed their inner thoughts about Auggie, how they changed, what they regretted thinking, what they hid… What they struggled with. It breathed a huge sense of humanity to the story that Auggie couldn’t have on his own.

In closing, this story was—I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again—sweet. I don’t think it transcended the average book, except in emotions and good messages, but it brought up some good points and handled them respectfully and with maturity. That in itself is commendable. There were some tears brought to my eyes—however, I don’t think Auggie brought up the most emotion for me, except the feel-good kind (at times). If anything, it was Via, who I found quite relatable… and one moment that can always make me cry: The death of the family pet. Oh God, I swear that I’m more emotional about animals than I am about humans.

One more thing: “You know, I’d really like to see a movie of this,” was what I kept thinking while reading this book. My opinion has not changed. I’m sure it would be great. If there’s one book that deserves the praise, it’s Wonder.

Make it happen!

*Also posted on my blog.