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RJ Palacio’s “Wonder”: A literary success that shows us the power of one moment

“Wonder” by RJ Palacio has been a highly successful book that was inspired by a fleeting personal experience of the author.  It is about a ten year old boy called August who was born with a facial difference and throughout the book we learn of his life, friendships and identify with his emotions. We also get to know his family who cherish August and confront the challenges that he and they face with warmth and good humour.

August’s journey begins when he is starting school. The author gives us a glimpse into what life is like for August; to never know when the next hurtful comment will come and to live with stares and finger pointing on a daily basis. August is shown to have remarkable strength and while there are sad moments the book is dotted with heart warming episodes and important messages about humanity and respect.

 

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The history behind this book is inspiring. One day, the author was out with her two children, and was sitting on a bench with her three year old son waiting for his older brother to buy icecream. She then noticed a girl sitting nearby to her, who physically resembled the character of August. Immediately she became worried that her youngest son sitting next to her, who was easily scared, would react in a way that would be hurtful to this girl when he saw her. She became anxious to leave and hurried herself and her children out of the way. Except this backfired. Her son turned around and, upon noticing the girl, started crying hysterically.

This moment and its aftermath proved to be pivotal in the author’s life and was the catalyst for literary success. She was struck by an overriding feeling of empathy for this young girl and of how it must be for her to live with the reactions of other people every day.  This single episode provided her with the inspiration to begin writing “Wonder”, which she started on the same day that the encounter took place. Little did she know that it would go on to be not only a resounding worldwide success but a book which continues to deliver an inspiring message to those who are touched by it. And it is hard not to be, as it is a very engaging and sensitively written book.

I knew it would be a positive story, a story about kindness and the impact of kindness. In a way, it would be my atonement for that moment in front of the ice cream shop. To this day, I regret not having gone back to talk to that little girl and her mom. Wonder is my message to them.”[1]

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Palacio’s story shows us the power of any moment, from a feeling of empathy to an inspiring thought. Her book parallels this, in that she shows how August provides an opportunity to others. In reality, there are many August’s of all ages in the world today and more than ever young people feel pressure to belong. The characters in the book who willingly associate with August are enriched by his friendship. Equally, Palacio reminds us that when we cannot see past “difference”, not only do we fail to rise to the moment but potentially miss out on remarkable experiences in life.

 

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About Judith Brown

Profile photo of Judith Brown
I did an MA in English literature at Kings College London where I wrote a dissertation on representations of characters with learning difficulties. I am very imaginative and write on a range of topics. I like to read, listen to music and draw.

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