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And don't miss R.J. Palacio's highly anticipated new novel, Pony, available September 2021!
I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.
August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Beginning from Auggie’s point of view and expanding to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others, the perspectives converge to form a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope.
R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.
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About the Author
Learn more about R.J. Palacio and the world of Wonder at wonderthebook.com.
Read an Excerpt
I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.
If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all. I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and then doing that look-away thing. Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.
But I’m kind of used to how I look by now. I know how to pretend I don’t see the faces people make. We’ve all gotten pretty good at that sort of thing: me, Mom and Dad, Via. Actually, I take that back: Via’s not so good at it. She can get really annoyed when people do something rude. Like, for instance, one time in the playground some older kids made some noises. I don’t even know what the noises were exactly because I didn’t hear them myself, but Via heard and she just started yelling at the kids. That’s the way she is. I’m not that way.
Via doesn’t see me as ordinary. She says she does, but if I were ordinary, she wouldn’t feel like she needs to protect me as much. And Mom and Dad don’t see me as ordinary, either. They see me as extraordinary. I think the only person in the world who realizes how ordinary I am is me.
My name is August, by the way. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
Why I Didn’t Go to School
Next week I start fifth grade. Since I’ve never been to a real school before, I am pretty much totally and completely petrified. People think I haven’t gone to school because of the way I look, but it’s not that. It’s because of all the surgeries I’ve had. Twenty-seven since I was born. The bigger ones happened before I was even four years old, so I don’t remember those. But I’ve had two or three surgeries every year since then (some big, some small), and because I’m little for my age, and I have some other medical mysteries that doctors never really figured out, I used to get sick a lot. That’s why my parents decided it was better if I didn’t go to school. I’m much stronger now, though. The last surgery I had was eight months ago, and I probably won’t have to have any more for another couple of years.
Mom homeschools me. She used to be a children’s-book illustrator. She draws really great fairies and mermaids. Her boy stuff isn’t so hot, though. She once tried to draw me a Darth Vader, but it ended up looking like some weird mushroom-shaped robot. I haven’t seen her draw anything in a long time. I think she’s too busy taking care of me and Via.
I can’t say I always wanted to go to school because that wouldn’t be exactly true. What I wanted was to go to school, but only if I could be like every other kid going to school. Have lots of friends and hang out after school and stuff like that.
I have a few really good friends now. Christopher is my best friend, followed by Zachary and Alex. We’ve known each other since we were babies. And since they’ve always known me the way I am, they’re used to me. When we were little, we used to have playdates all the time, but then Christopher moved to Bridgeport in Connecticut. That’s more than an hour away from where I live in North River Heights, which is at the top tip of Manhattan. And Zachary and Alex started going to school. It’s funny: even though Christopher’s the one who moved far away, I still see him more than I see Zachary and Alex. They have all these new friends now. If we bump into each other on the street, they’re still nice to me, though. They always say hello.
I have other friends, too, but not as good as Christopher and Zack and Alex were. For instance, Zack and Alex always invited me to their birthday parties when we were little, but Joel and Eamonn and Gabe never did. Emma invited me once, but I haven’t seen her in a long time. And, of course, I always go to Christopher’s birthday. Maybe I’m making too big a deal about birthday parties.
How I Came to Life
I like when Mom tells this story because it makes me laugh so much. It’s not funny in the way a joke is funny, but when Mom tells it, Via and I just start cracking up.
So when I was in my mom’s stomach, no one had any idea I would come out looking the way I look. Mom had had Via four years before, and that had been such a “walk in the park” (Mom’s expression) that there was no reason to run any special tests. About two months before I was born, the doctors realized there was something wrong with my face, but they didn’t think it was going to be bad. They told Mom and Dad I had a cleft palate and some other stuff going on. They called it “small anomalies.”
There were two nurses in the delivery room the night I was born. One was very nice and sweet. The other one, Mom said, did not seem at all nice or sweet. She had very big arms and (here comes the funny part), she kept farting. Like, she’d bring Mom some ice chips, and then fart. She’d check Mom’s blood pressure, and fart. Mom says it was unbelievable because the nurse never even said excuse me! Meanwhile, Mom’s regular doctor wasn’t on duty that night, so Mom got stuck with this cranky kid doctor she and Dad nicknamed Doogie after some old TV show or something (they didn’t actually call him that to his face). But Mom says that even though everyone in the room was kind of grumpy, Dad kept making her laugh all night long.
When I came out of Mom’s stomach, she said the whole room got very quiet. Mom didn’t even get a chance to look at me because the nice nurse immediately rushed me out of the room. Dad was in such a hurry to follow her that he dropped the video camera, which broke into a million pieces. And then Mom got very upset and tried to get out of bed to see where they were going, but the farting nurse put her very big arms on Mom to keep her down in the bed. They were practically fighting, because Mom was hysterical and the farting nurse was yelling at her to stay calm, and then they both started screaming for the doctor. But guess what? He had fainted! Right on the floor! So when the farting nurse saw that he had fainted, she started pushing him with her foot to get him to wake up, yelling at him the whole time: “What kind of doctor are you? What kind of doctor are you? Get up! Get up!” And then all of a sudden she let out the biggest, loudest, smelliest fart in the history of farts. Mom thinks it was actually the fart that finally woke the doctor up. Anyway, when Mom tells this story, she acts out all the partsincluding the farting noisesand it is so, so, so, so funny!
Mom says the farting nurse turned out to be a very nice woman. She stayed with Mom the whole time. Didn’t leave her side even after Dad came back and the doctors told them how sick I was. Mom remembers exactly what the nurse whispered in her ear when the doctor told her I probably wouldn’t live through the night: “Everyone born of God overcometh the world.” And the next day, after I had lived through the night, it was that nurse who held Mom’s hand when they brought her to meet me for the first time.
Mom says by then they had told her all about me. She had been preparing herself for the seeing of me. But she says that when she looked down into my tiny mushed-up face for the first time, all she could see was how pretty my eyes were.
Mom is beautiful, by the way. And Dad is handsome. Via is pretty. In case you were wondering.
What People are Saying About This
#1 New York Times bestseller
A School Library Journal Best of Children's Books 2012
A Publishers Weekly Best of Children's Books 2012
A Kirkus Reviews Best of Children's Books 2012
A Booklist Best of Children's Books 2012
"Wonder is essentially ... a wonder. It's well-written, engaging, and so much fun to read that the pages almost turn themselves. More than that, Wonder touches the heart in the most life-affirming, unexpected ways, delivering in August Pullman a character whom readers will remember forever. Do yourself a favor and read this book – your life will be better for it." - Nicholas Sparks, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Slate.com, October 10, 2012:
"Wonder is the best kids' book of the year."
Entertainment Weekly, February 17, 2012, The Top 10 Things We Love This Week:
"In a wonder of a debut, Palacio has written a crackling page-turner filled with characters you can't help but root for."
The New York Times, April 8, 2012:
"Rich and memorable...It's Auggie and the rest of the children who are the real heart of 'Wonder,' and Palacio captures the voices of girls and boys, fifth graders and teenagers, with equal skill."
The Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2012:
"What makes R.J. Palacio's debut novel so remarkable, and so lovely, is the uncommon generosity with which she tells Auggie's story…The result is a beautiful, funny and sometimes sob-making story of quiet transformation.”
The Huffington Post,
March 1, 2012: "It's in the bigger themes that Palacio's writing shines. This book is a glorious exploration of the nature of friendship, tenacity, fear, and most importantly, kindness."
January 2013: "I think every mother and father would be better for having read it. Auggie's parents who are never named in the book, and don't even get to narrate a chapter of their own are powerful examples not only of how to shelter and strengthen a child with heartbreaking facial anomalies, but also of how to be a loving advocate to any kid."
The London Times, The Top 100 People to Watch in 2012:
"The breakout publishing sensation of 2012 will come courtesy of Palacio [and] is destined to go the way of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and then some."
"Full of heart, full of truth, Wonder is a book about seeing the beauty that's all around us. I dare you not to fall in love with Auggie Pullman."
- Rebecca Stead, Newbery award-winning author of When You Reach Me
"It is the deceptive simplicity and honesty of the work that make Wonder so memorable. Every single character seems real and well drawn and oh-so human...This book is beautiful." - Christopher Paul Curtis, Newbery award-winning author of Bud, Not Buddy
"A beautiful story of kindness and courage. There are many real and well-developed characters, and they each have their shining moments. Of course, Auggie shines the brightest." - Clare Vanderpool, Newbery award-winning author of Moon Over Manifest
"Wonder is a beautifully told story about heartache, love, and the value of human life. One comes away from it wanting to be a better person." - Patricia Reilly Giff, two-time Newbery honor-winning author of Lily's Crossing and Pictures of Hollis Woods
"Wonder is a shining jewel of a story that cannot help but encourage readers of all ages to do better, to be better, in how they treat others in life. I'm totally in love with this novel." - Trudy Ludwig, anti-bullying advocate and author of My Secret Bully, Confessions of a Former Bully, Better Than You, and Just Kidding
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, February 20, 2012:
“Few first novels pack more of a punch: it's a rare story with the power to open eyesand heartsto what it's like to be singled out for a difference you can't control, when all you want is to be just another face in the crowd.”
Starred Review, Booklist, February 1, 2012:
“Palacio makes it feel not only effortless but downright graceful, and by the stand-up-and-cheer conclusion, readers will be doing just that, and feeling as if they are part of this troubled but ultimately warm-hearted community.”
Starred Review, School Library Journal, February 1, 2012:
"Palacio has an exceptional knack for writing realistic conversation and describing the thoughts and emotions of the characters...A well-written, thought-provoking book."
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2011:
“A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder.”
How did the idea for WONDER come about?
About five years ago, I took my kids to visit a friend of mine who lives out of town, and at some point during the day we found ourselves sitting next to a little girl who looked the way Auggie looks in the book. We were in front of an ice cream shop, and she was sitting next to us with her mother and a friend. My younger son was only about three at the time, and he reacted exactly the way you might think a three-year old would react when seeing something that scared him: he started to crypretty loudly, too. And though my older son, who was ten at the time, knew better than to stare, his expression said it all despite his best efforts: he looked like someone had just punched him. It was terrible, on all counts, and I got up as quickly as I could to remove us from the scenenot for their sakes, of course, but to spare the little's girl's feelings. As I pushed my younger son's stroller away I heard the little girls' mom say, in as sweet and calm a voice as you can imagine: "Okay, guys, I think it's time to go." And that just got to me.
On the drive home, I couldn't stop thinking about how that scene had played out. It occurred to me that they probably went through something like that dozens of times a day. Hundreds of times. What would that be like? What could I be teaching my children so they could understand how to respond better next time? Is "don't stare" even the right thing to teach, or is there something deeper? All this stuff was flying through my head on the long car ride home while my boys slept in the back seat of the car. I was literally obsessing about it, so after a while I turned on the radio just to keep myself from thinking about it and the first thing that started to play was Natalie Merchant's Wonder. It was so amazing because that song had always been one of my absolute favoritesbut that night the words really hit me, almost like I was hearing them for the first time. People see meI'm a challenge to your balance. I'm over your heads, how I confound you and astound you, to know I must be one of the wonders of god's own creation... It was like the song had been written for this girl I had just seen.
The book kind of wrote itself in my head on that drive home. I would write the story from the child's point of view. It would help people understandnot pity. I'm just like you, the child would say. I'm an ordinary kidexcept for this one thing. And I would call the book Wonder because this child is a wonder.
WONDER is told from the perspective of several different characters. Was it harder to capture the voice of some characters over others?
I didn't start out with the intention of going into the other voices, but it seemed like a natural a transition as I was writing. There came a point where I was just so intrigued by Via that I wanted to hear directly from her. And Summer and Jack and the others. So no, it wasn't that hard to get into their voices because it was a natural curiosity that led me to them, and then they led me through the story.
I decided to make the main character a boy because I have sons and I'm surrounded by boys all the time. I felt I had a good handle on the way they talked and the things they did. And my older son had just finished his first year in middle school, so it was all very fresh in my mind.
How did you come up with the idea for Mr. Browne's precepts?
When I was a thirteen or fourteen, I started collecting sayings and precepts. I'm not even sure why or how, but I remember liking them, thinking they were cool. "Fortune favors the bold" was a favorite.
As for Mr. Browne: I had a wonderful English teacher named Mr. Browne in high school, and though he never taught us precepts, he's the kind of teacher who would have. He was very tall and had a blond beard. The Mr. Browne in the book is my nod to Mr. Browne in my high school. I hope he's reading this.
Can you talk about the research you did into Auggie's medical condition?
I spent a few weeks researching geneticsspecifically facial anomalies in children. I don't want to call them deformities because I think that's an ugly word, an unnecessary word. There are many syndromes out there, all with varying degrees of abnormality. It wasn't a pleasant subject to research. I decided not to get too specific about Auggie's malady in the book, but in my head he has a severe form of Treacher-Collins syndrome complicated by some other unknown mysterious syndrome that makes his particular condition quite rare.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why? What was the most difficult chapter to write?
That's a tough question. I have a couple of different favorites. I love Auggie so muchI loved when I was writing from his point of view. I liked when characters surprised me. Miranda was a surprise to me. I like Jack's pluck. I love Summer. I wish I were more like her. And Via's whole story is amazing to me. She's strong and fierce but insecure, too. I love Justin because he loves Via.
I found the scene that takes place in the woods very difficult to write because it got scary for me: those kids from the other school were so mean. As the situation unfolded it all felt so real to me, and that made me sad. But one of my absolute favorite moments in the book happens then, too. It's when Auggie wants to thank Amos and the other guys for coming to his rescue, and he lifts his hand to give a high five though he has no idea if Amos will high five him back, given that these were the same boys that had avoided getting near him for months. That Auggie could find the courage to raise his hand for the high fivenot knowing if it would be reciprocatedis such an extraordinary act of courage to me. That moment moved me. And when he wept in the woods and those same boys comforted him.
What do you hope readers come away with after finishing WONDER?
I hope that readers will come away with the idea that they are noticed: their actions are noted. Maybe not immediately or directly or even in a way that seems obvious, but if they're mean, someone suffers. If they're kind, someone benefits. And the choice is theirs: whether to be noticed for being kind or for being mean. They get to choose who they want to be in this world. And it's not their friends and not their parents who make those choices: it's them.
I also hope parents take heed and do more interfering in their kids' lives. I've talked to so many parents, friends of mine, who kind of stood back and shrugged off their kids' behavior in middle school, as if being mean were an unavoidable evil that they "hope" their kid would grow out of. I had one dad tell me once about his son, "Well, he doesn't listen to me anymore so I stopped wasting my time trying to tell him what to do." To me, that's exactly when your kid needs you the most: when he acts like he's not listening anymore. What I think is that deep down inside, we're so grateful that it's not our kid who's being picked on we look the other way when it's someone else's kid. So long as it's not your kid at the bottom of that ladder, you know? But parents have to resist that way of thinking. They need to remind their kids to be kind and do right exactly because it's the hardest thing to do at that age.
In the end, I just hope that readers will come away with more self-awareness. If they can relate to how Auggie feels, they might think twice before saying something thoughtless should they ever encounter someone different from them. I'm hoping they'll find a character they can relate to and say, "Hmm, that's kind of like who I am in my school." It might make them rethink who they are. Are you more like Jack or more like Julian? Are you Summer or are you Charlotte? If a kid like Auggie were in your class, how would you treat him? These are good questions to ask yourself if you're ten or eleven years old. I don't see why childreneven young onesshouldn't be aware of what they put out in the world.
Which of the characters were you the most like as a child?
I wish I could say I would have been Summer or even Jack, but unfortunately, I don't think I was that good. If a kid like Auggie had come into my class when I was in the 5th grade, I think I would have been most like Charlotte: nice enough, never mean, but never really extending myself, either. Or I might have been a bit like Amos. I would have defended the underdog, but it would have taken some kind of drama to get me there. In terms of character and temperament, I think Via is very much like I was at fifteen.
You never write from the point of view of the parents or any grown-ups. Why?
I wanted to keep this in the realm of kids. If we had heard from the parents, I think the story would have taken a different arc. It would have widened the storyline, and I wanted to keep it simple. One year in the life of this extraordinary boy and his loving family.
I love the mom and dad. I know the mom's a bit idealized, but that's because she's only ever seen from the point of view of her kids. I think she's careful to only show them one side of who she is, though I'm sure she has another side to her, a fiercer side. In temperament I think she's probably a lot like Via. But life has taught her to be patient. Life has taught her to have faith in the goodness of people. And the dad's the kind of person who will make the best of every situation and try to find the humor in it, in life.
In addition to writing, you work in book publishing. Can you talk about your experience as an author versus a publisher?
I've spent my entire adult life in book publishing. My husband's in publishing. All my best friends are in publishing. I still get excited by launch meetings and Book Expo America and talking to librarians and booksellerseven after twenty years in the business. It's what I love. And I know firsthand how hard people work to make books. The truth is, I think some authors don't realize that when they get a book published, it's not really just about them: we're ALL publishing their book. We ALL have a vested interest in its success. When an author hands in a manuscript, it's the beginning of this great, amazing collaboration. The best authors I've ever worked with are the ones that know this. And that's what being in publishing has taught me: how to be that kind of author, the kind I've always loved working with.
Do you have any words of advice for aspiring writers?
I would sum it up with another precept I wrote down when I was a teenager. It was from The Agony and the Ecstasy: "The most perfect guide is nature. Continue without fail to draw something every day." Substitute the word "write" for the word "draw," and that would be my advice. Just write. Don't wait for the perfect moment: there's usually no such thing.
What were some of your favorite books growing up? What do you like to read now?
The first book I remember loving was D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, which I read when I was seven. Later came Edith Hamilton's Mythology and W.H.D. Rouse's The Illiad. Then more normal preteen books like Little Women and everything by Judy Blume. As a young teen I gobbled up books like Shogun and Centennial all those superlong epics that were so popular in the 70s. Hawaii. The Thorn Birds. One summer it was The Lord of the Rings and all the Dune books. And, like Via, I read War and Peace when I was fifteen.
As for now, unfortunately I don't read nearly as much as I did when I was a teen. I'm into Cormac McCarthy, Robert Olmstead. The Land of Spices by Kate O'Brien. Margot Livesey's Eva Moves the Furniture. I loved The Book Thief. Brideshead Revisited will always be a favorite. If I had to choose three books to take with me on a deserted island, it would be The Little Prince, Cosmicomics, and Ficciones.
What is your writing process like?
I have a full-time job and a husband and two children, so I don't have the luxury of waiting for a free moment to write. I have to grab my time and be very disciplined about it. My routine when writing Wonder was this: I would come home from work, have dinner with my family, help with some homework, watch some TVusually fall asleep around tenand then wake up around midnight and write for two to three hours when everyone was asleep. It sounds hard but it really wasn't. I was so into the story and the characters I couldn't wait to get back to them.
What are you working on next?
I was about a hundred pages into an urban fantasy series when I stopped that to start writing Wonder. I thought I would get right back to that after Wonder, but something else has taken hold. It's called That Was the River. I can't explain what it's about yet because it's so nascent.