Bodley Head £12.99

Wonder, By R J Palacio

A boy who's never been to school, but has something to teach us all

I imagine that the pitch for Wonder went something along the lines of "does for facial disfigurement what The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time did for Asperger syndrome".

Ten-year-old August – Auggie – Pullman has never been to school. A veteran of surgical procedures ("twenty seven since I was born"), he has a "previously unknown type of mandibulofacial dysostosis caused by an autosomal recessive mutation in the TCOF1 gene ... complicated by a hemifacial microsomia". The only night of the year he feels normal is Halloween, because then everyone's wearing a mask, and for two whole years he walked around wearing a toy astronaut's helmet.

Auggie knows all the reactions his appearance causes: the shock, the smirking, the covert glances, the hostility. He has created a safe world for himself in North River Heights, his Manhattan neighbourhood: "On our block, everybody knows me and I know everybody ... I know Mrs Grimaldi, the lady who's always sitting by her window, and the old guy who walks up and down the street whistling like a bird ... and the waitresses at the coffee shop who all call me 'honey' and give me lollipops." But Auggie's parents have decided it's time for him to go to school. Wonder recounts his rocky year as a fifth-grader at high-toned Beecher Prep, told through his words and those of his older sister, Olivia, and their friends.

Four carefully vetted children are appointed as helpers, but this well-intentioned gesture quickly backfires. There's no way round it: Auggie will have to make his own way in the school pecking order. One of the appealing themes of the book is the way children use cultural bric-a-brac to form an identity. Auggie is obsessed with Star Wars, and reflects: "Like, it's okay, I know I'm weird looking, take a look, I don't bite. Hey, the truth is, if a Wookiee started going to school, I'd probably stare a bit!" When he becomes aware that his fellow pupils are shunning him, he has another reference to hand: "I think it's like the Cheese Touch in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The kids in that story were afraid they'd catch the cooties if they touched the old mouldy cheese in the basketball court. At Beecher Prep, I'm the old, mouldy cheese."

All this is harrowing enough. More apparent to an adult reader, perhaps (the book is recommended for readers of 10 and above), are the advantages Auggie receives: the cuddles, the pampering, the non-stop worrying and care he gets from his parents. R J Palacio deftly shows the effects that putting Auggie first have on his sister. In one telling scene, Auggie storms to his bedroom in a giant sulk, makes a cave of his bed coverings and fills it with his toy animals. Much to his surprise, his mother doesn't immediately rush to comfort him. As Olivia yells: "Not everything in the world is about you, Auggie!"

Except for his appearance, Auggie is an ordinary boy. Well, almost – without ever being mawkish, Palacio emphasises his resilience, sense of humour and bravery in the face of endless surgery. I'd defy anyone not to well up when he cries: "Why do I have to be so ugly, Mommy?", and as for the climax, it wreaks emotional havoc. There is a message running through the book, most clearly voiced by an inspirational teacher, that if we were all a little kinder to one another the benefit would be incalculable. To finish it with a firm resolve to be a better person – well, you can't ask much more of any book than that.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot