Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Virtual Book Club: Wonder January 3, 2014

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our first young adult novel discussion. This month we’re talking about Wonder by R. J. Palacio, which I introduced here.

 

Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few topics for discussion, and you can write your responses about these topics (or others you’d like to discuss) in the comment section.

 wonder1

Discussion #1: The Best and the Worst in People

In this novel, Augie goes through a more extreme version of what everyone experiences at some point—the agony of being different, the fear of not being accepted, the pain of being excluded. Middle school is a crucible that brings out the best and worst in people, and this is even more obvious with someone like Augie, who has a significant physical deformity.

 

We see the pain inflicted by Augie’s classmates who bully him and actively avoid him (claiming he has “the plague”), and we also see the pain inflicted in more passive ways by peers who aren’t mean to him but don’t stand up for him either. But on the flip side, we also see the good in humanity, such as when Jack forfeits his popularity to be Augie’s friend and when Summer sits at his lunch table even though it meant the popular kid wouldn’t go out with her.

 

When you were a kid, where did you fit in the social pecking order? Were you a leader, someone who went with the crowd, or someone who marched to your own drum? How can we encourage kids to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s not popular?

 

Discussion #2: Everyone Has a Story

I enjoyed hearing the different perspectives on the same story—it was a good reminder that everyone has a story to tell. (Although it did get tedious at times when the content overlapped from one person’s story to the next.) Via, the dutiful big sister, is often overshadowed by everything that’s happening to Augie, but when we hear her story, we realize that she’s dealing with challenges of her own too. And while we may be tempted to judge Miranda at first, after we hear her side, we discover that she’s been struggling with her parents’ divorce.

 

Did you like the multiple viewpoints format? Did you have a favorite character?

 

Discussion #3: Loving without Overprotecting

I liked the way the relationships were portrayed in Augie’s family. His parents seemed believable—imperfect but full of love. I imagine that every parent or teacher feels the struggle they felt when they sent Augie off to middle school “like a lamb to the slaughter.” How do you protect your child and still prepare him/her for the real world? How do you know when to let go and allow him fall sometimes?

 

Do you think you would have sent your child to school, as Augie’s parents did? What would you have handled differently?

 

Discussion #4: The Ending

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting for the ending of this book, but I was a little disappointed. It seems like Augie’s award at graduation was supposed to be the climactic moment, but rang somewhat hollow to me. His whole life, Augie has wanted to be a regular kid, like everyone else. He doesn’t want to be different or special or pitied or coddled by adults, so having the principal select him for the award didn’t seem like an apt conclusion. Maybe it would have been more satisfying if the award had been voted on by all his peers—it would have shown how much had changed over the course of the year.

 

What did you think of the ending? If you were writing an alternate ending, what would happen in your version? What do you think will happen to Augie next year?

 

Rating:

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was a little slow at times, and I wanted to skim past some of the tedious fifth grade interactions. But then again, maybe that’s because I’m not the target audience. This book will spark good conversations—for adults and kids alike—and it rings true as a study of the human condition.

 4 stars

 

How many stars would you give this book?

 

{Remember: there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}

 

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4 Responses to “Virtual Book Club: Wonder”

  1. Cindy Haberkorn Says:

    I knew I would enjoy this book before I finished the first page. Ok – second paragraph as Auggie shares,”…the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one sees me that way.” Many 5th graders to adults struggle with their own feelings of who they really are by other’s perceptions, behaviors, words or whatever towards them. In this case,it is a physical deformity that blocks many from “seeing” the real Auggie. However, as the nurse told Auggie’s mother, Everyone born of God overcometh the world.”

    Spending part of my work day at schools, I found the characters believable and relevant. I liked Mr. Browne’s precepts and especially enjoyed the postcard precepts at the end.

    I give this book a 4/5 stars. Thanks, Stephanie for an easy delightful read!

    • Thanks so much for your great comments, Cindy! So glad you joined us! I was curious to hear what you’d think of this since you interact with students on a regular basis. I loved that quote from the nurse–it really set the tone for the rest of Auggie’s life. And I liked the precepts too–it made me want to keep track of them myself!

  2. Linnea Says:

    I really enjoyed this book (4/5 stars seems fair). Here are some of my thoughts on the discussion questions:
    #2 I very much enjoyed the different perspectives offered in the book. I found myself empathizing with each person and just wanting everyone to tell the truth to each other, apologize for mistakes, and express their love. I wonder if that’s how God feels sometimes – since He naturally sees things from everyone’s perspective. I hope that I can remember this the next time I feel hurt by someone, and just give them the benefit of the doubt. Also, it’s interesting that Julian’s perspective is not explored – and I had almost no empathy for him. He did get a precept at the back, which I think could indicate a plan to change his ways at some level, though.
    #4 I agree that the ending seemed a little contrived. But, at the same time, I might have teared up a bit… I think Auggie did end up bringing the school together and “carried up the most hearts.” I almost wondered if Jack might win the award – a kid who didn’t excel academically and was disadvantaged economically, but gave up the one thing he did have (popularity) in the interest of true friendship. I really liked Jack and thought his character was realistically portrayed.

    Another question I’d ask is – what responsibility does Auggie (or whoever is dealing with a major condition like his) have to think about things from the perspective of others and step out of his/her own challenges to try to help others through theirs? I did feel like Auggie helped his friends feel comfortable by being able to talk about how he looked and why. I wish I would have seen some more empathy on his part for what Via was going, though. In my experience, the person going through a difficult thing (be it cancer or heartache or whatever) has the most power to help others by offering grace to people who don’t know how to react and or react before they have time to think. And, I think we all need to realize that even if what we’re going through is “worse” than what others are dealing with, it doesn’t mean what they’re going through isn’t the hardest thing they’ve experienced.

    • Great thoughts, Linnea! I thought that was interesting too that we never get to see Julian’s perspective. I wonder if the author was communicating that there are some people we’ll never quite understand and we have to learn to be okay with that? I had the same thought about the award–I wondered if Jack might get it instead of Auggie. Hmm, good question about Auggie’s responsibility to step outside of himself. Maybe that will be part of the sequel. :-)


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