Lit Circle Journal: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Believe it or not, the simplest stories sometimes turn out to be the most well-known. Not because they’re easy to tell but because everyone can understand it fully. (wow, that rhymed.)

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Instead of the typical review, I’m doing a literature circle journal entry. This is for my Children’s Lit class so I’m treating this as an assignment but also as a blog entry to make it sort of fun. 

WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead

Discussion Points

  1. Why do you think Jack lied to Julian and made fun of August on Halloween?
  2. Why did Miranda’s relationship with Olivia fall apart?
  3. What events in Summer’s life impacted her personality and decision to befriend August?
  4. Explain Charlotte’s precept and its irony throughout the story: “It’s not enough to be friendly. You have to be a friend.”
  5. Can you relate to Summer’s choice in rejecting the ‘popular crowd’ and staying true to your friends?
  6. Auggie did not want to be known as a Star Wars fanatic. Olivia didn’t wants others to know her as the sister to a ‘deformed brother.’ Explain the pivotal role it plays in social interactions and talk of a time when others defined you by something.
  7. Julian secretly taunted Auggie with a Stars Wars reference that only they two understood. How is an indirect insult worse than a public one?
  8. Why did everyone play the Plague?
  9. The introduction of Olivia’s point of view shed light on the family dynamics. How did knowing about her struggles contribute to the overall plot?
  10. Why do you think Julian went out of his way to create malicious rumors about August?
  11. How did socioeconomic status play a role in Jack Will’s social relationships and friendships?
  12. Mr. Browne’s precepts offered a glimpse of people’s personalities. Why do you think the author brought it up multiple times throughout the story?
  13. August won the Henry Ward Beecher medal: “He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts”. Through what actions did you display this quiet strength?
  14. Do you think certain teachers and administrators makes a huge influence on your middle school development?

Passages of Interest

Passage One:

On page 29- “The thing is, when I was little, I never minded meeting new kids because all the kids I met were really little, too. What’s cool about really little kids is that they don’t say stuff to try to hurt your feelings, even though sometimes they do say stuff that hurts your feelings. But they don’t actually know what they’re saying. Big kids, though: they know what they’re saying. And that is definitely not fun for me. One of the reasons I grew my hair long last year was that I like how my bangs cover my eyes: it helps me block out the things I don’t want to see.”

This is a startling/surprising passage because it informs the reader that August is not averse to socializations and that he grew up fine meeting new people. The fact that he has been home-schooled up until then is in part all due to his parents’ overprotectiveness. He’s afraid of the deliberate cruelty and isolation wrought by older kids and it has affected the way he dressed himself. He is so used to hiding like he does with his hair that going to school will be a struggle because it’s too much exposure to vulnerability. So far, his personality has remained intact but going to school might change him profoundly depending on the peer reception to his presence.

Passage Two:

Page 75- I noticed not too long ago that even though people were getting used to me, no one would actually touch me. I didn’t realize this at first because it’s not like kids go around touching each other that much in middle school anyway. But last Thursday in dance class, which is, like, my least favorite class, Mrs. Atanabi, the teacher, tried to make Ximena Chin be my dance partner. Now, I’ve never actually seen someone have a “panic attack” before, but I have heard about it, and I’m pretty sure Ximena had a panic attack at that second. She got really nervous and turned pale and literally broke into a sweat within a minute, and then she came up with some lame excuse about really having to go to the bathroom. Anyway, Mrs. Atanabi let her off the hook, because she ended up not making anyone dance together.

I believe this to be a crucial part in August’s emotional development. Instead of lashing out in rage and embarrassment, he takes the humiliation in stride and simply recounts the incident matter-of-factly. In the beginning of the year, he has reacted negatively to social rejection and easily went home crying. Although he is helpless in this kind of situation, he has grown independent and resigned to it that he makes the best of what he has. In August’s scenario, taking it to the authorities is the worst case and this forces him to confront the issue. In lieu of completely internalizing the problem, he tells his friends about it but doesn’t let it consume his thoughts.

Passage Three:

Page 271- ““What!” I yelled, touching my ears. The hearing aid band was definitely gone. That’s why I felt like I was underwater! “Oh no!” I said, and that’s when I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Everything that had just happened kind of hit me and I couldn’t help it: I started to cry. Like big crying, what Mom would call “the waterworks.” I was so embarrassed I hid my face in my arm, but I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. The guys were really nice to me, though. They patted me on the back. “You’re okay, dude. It’s okay,” they said. “You’re one brave little dude, you know that?” said Amos, putting his arm around my shoulders. And when I kept on crying, he put both his arms around me like my dad would have done and let me cry.”

August has gone through a harrowing experience so it’s reasonable that he is upset but the reactions of his classmates, some who were former enemies, is appropriate . Their caring and kindness breaks down August when their cruelty had not affected him after extended affliction. This turnabout has shifted the dynamics between the feud and it also shows a new side of people who have always seemed malicious. The character development of Henry and Amos is distinct and they’re no long as 2-dimensional.

Locate three passages of the story that your group should reread, discuss, and think about.

  1. Choose a variety of passages, not all the same type– suggestions: • surprising/startling • confusing (something you wonder if other people “got”) • descriptive writing: figurative language, strong verbs, etc. (identify literary descriptive writing: figurative language, strong verbs, etc. (identify literary devices) • important (maybe a clue?  foreshadowing?) • controversial event (elicits different opinions from group members)

Summary

August Pullman has been hidden away long enough by his parent, not out of shame but out of love. Up until 5th grade, he has been homeschooled by his parents. The final straw was the fact that his mother couldn’t teach fractions well enough and it was nigh on time for August to meet new people his age and interact with him. This book chronicles his struggles integrating into Beecher Prep Middle School, an elite private school filled with mostly rich kids. Upon first glance, children avoided Auggie except for a few select anomalies.

Although popularity was an irony to August, who everyone knows and can point out from a crowd, it is a central theme that effects everyone strongly throughout the story. Those (Summer and Jack Will) who hang out and talk to Auggie are isolated from the popular crowd despite their high potential status. August withstands a lot of social rejection and abuse from bullies like Julian. Despite what everybody thinks of his nerdiness and facial features , his personality is extremely charming and he exerts effort to show it.

 August tentatively forms new friendships, handles academic courseloads, and makes connections through new experiences.

August is not without supporters and there are multiple narratives throughout the story that talk about how their lives affect and are affected by his. Aside from revolving all events around August, these different points of views give insights to personalities and characteristics of the people surrounding him. This is essentially a coming-of-age novel that records how a village of people helped a child develop and mature.


Commentary:

It was inevitable for my paths to cross with this book due to its sheer popularity when it was released. The overwhelming hype actually turned me away from it aside from the sensitive topic it dealt with. AND, this was essentially a middle age book and yet, so many adult readers loved it. I felt that I was too old to read children’s books and I disliked middle school in general which counted heavily against Wonder. I particularly didn’t have a sparkling splendid time in junior high but it really wasn’t that bad now that I read this book and looked back on it.

I just want to say that pretty much everything the kids do in this book has stayed the same throughout the ages. When I went to middle school, they were just as deliberately snobby and mockingly cruel. Their jokes and taunts are overused and your identity becomes formed around one thing. In short, middle school kids are simply terrible little demons. However, that’s not to say that there are redeeming qualities in some of them and their small acts of kindness can mean infinitely to one person. They’re just as capable of being courageous as they are spiteful. I count myself lucky to not have experienced ridicule and social rejection on the same levels that August did. His personality really shined through and I’m glad because that should be the one quality that’s prized above physical appearance.

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