Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Wonder" by R.J. Palacio

313 pages

I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity. Due to ongoing surgeries and his parents' desire to protect him, he's always been homeschooled and, for the most part, keeps to himself at home with his parents and protective older sister. But now he decides he's ready to try mainstream school, so he begins 5th grade at Beecher Prep. He knows going in that some kids will focus on his startling appearance, but he has no idea how difficult his adjustment will be.  Inside, Auggie feels like an ordinary kid, but his classmates don't necessarily see him that way. The rest of Auggie's fifth-grade story unfolds through his own eyes as well as those of his sister, her boyfriend, and Auggie's peers. 

This book totally broke my heart. Though it's fiction, it definitely reflects the experiences that some children have in real life, and it makes me sad that they have to live through things like this when they just want to play, learn, and socialize like normal. Still, this is ultimately an inspiring and uplifting story. In fact, my one complaint is that it's a little too rosy--I don't think the feel-good ending is very realistic--but in some ways I'm okay with it for this book since it is, after all, written for children. And, to be honest, I just like coming away from a story with a good feeling rather than a bad one. I think Palacio does a great job of creating each character's individual voice and showing how they grow throughout the book. I like that she included other perspectives as well as Auggie's to show how our lives all affect each other's. I loved so many of the secondary characters as well as Auggie, and their relationships feel real--loving but flawed. Overall, a very good story that I will be recommending to adults and teens as well as older elementary school kids and tweens. 

"You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life" by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding

368 pages

Jeffrey Schwartz, a leading neuroplasticity researcher and author, and psychiatrist Rebecca Gladding put their minds together to figure out how brain wiring works against us when it comes to bad habits. They studying OCD patients as well as people with social anxieties, self-deprecating thoughts, and all sorts of compulsions. Then they came up with a four-step program to rewire the brain by consciously choosing to weaken the circuits that create the bad habits, decreasing their influence and strength. In this book, they share what they learned through their research and outline their plan for creating more positive and productive thought processes.

The authors do a very good job of explaining their research to laypeople, and their work makes a lot of sense. There isn't necessarily anything earth-shattering, I don't think, but they do offer some good strategies for dealing with bad thoughts and strengthening positive thinking. Of course, as with any self-help book, their plan won't single-handedly revolutionize the mind of someone with a serious mental problem, but it probably can help people with mild anxiety or compulsive behavior, and it could be helpful as part of a bigger treatment plan for someone with a serious issue.