By R.J. Palacio
August Pullman is a typical kid with a highly atypical appearance. Massive birth defects left him with a highly deformed face. He has already been through more surgeries than most people will go through in their entire lives. He is a happy child though, and finds ways to cope with his appearance. When he was younger, that involved wearing an astronaut helmet 24/7, but now he just stays in safe places with safe people who are comfortable around him. All that is about to change, however, Auggie is about to start the fifth grade. He has never been to school before, he has never before been thrown into the ring with children who can be cruel if there is nothing wrong with you, and have no idea how to react to seeing something they don't understand. Will he have enough strength and support to make it?
I was hesitant to read this book, it has certainly garnered a lot of buzz, but I was afraid of another saccharin-ly sweet, the-different-kid-has-to-deal-with-mean-kids book. But it wasn't that at all. I never once pitied Auggie. I felt for him, but he is not a character to be pitied. To be sure, my heart broke when the kids were cruel to him, when the well-meaning teachers made the situation worse, when his sister started to crack under the pressure of being "Auggie's Sister" instead of her own person. It is a rough story, to be sure, but it is frank and honest. Auggie is a tough kid, but he is just a kid, particularly one who has been a bit coddled and you see that vulnerability. He has a loving family, but not a perfect one. His mom is overprotective, his dad throws out the things he uses as crutches, and his sister is struggling with her own identity and frustrations. The kids are real, even the nice ones can be mean and they don't know why. The chapters are done from different points of view, which works really well. My only wish is that there had been a chapter from the point of view of the main bully, I would have liked to see inside his head. This is a fantastic book, one of those that everyone should read.