By R.J. Palacio
Expected publication February 14, 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
August has been homeschooled his whole life. Now, as he's about to enter fifth-grade, his parents think he should try going to a regular school. This would be bad enough if Auggie were a normal kid - but he's not. Auggie was born with a severe facial deformity (to paraphrase his words, "whatever you're thinking, it's worse"). Can Auggie survive his first year at a real school?
This book was practically shoved into my hands at Midwinter - everyone working the booth was raving about it and recommending it to every librarian within earshot. Of course, I happily obliged them. I can't pinpoint what exactly it is about this book but I really, really enjoyed it. I didn't want to stop reading. This is a simple yet compelling and complex story about Auggie, his family, and his attempt to assimilate in the world of middle school (which was a little weird for me because our middle school only housed 7th and 8th grade, but this one starts at 5th). Auggie is a well-defined character with an interesting voice. He provides an unique, but, I think, accurate perspective of a child with a visible physical deformity. His story is believable and heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. Palacio also chooses to provide multiple perspectives throughout the book (there are eight sections, three narrated by Auggie and five by various other characters). Though it felt a bit strange at first (because the narrative break doesn't come for a while), ultimately I think this really worked. It allows the reader to step out from Auggie's perspective, which is admittedly a tough one to be in. The other narrators are a mix of obvious choices (Auggie's older sister Via, the boy who befriends Auggie at school) and more subtle (Via's new boyfriend, Via's former best friend, the girl who sits with Auggie at lunch). I thought this mix worked really well for the story. It goes without saying that this book made me cry, but in a way that surprised me. This is an emotional book and a great book about fitting in, bullying, growing up, and choosing kindness over popularity. I think this book will have a lot of fans. I certainly enjoyed it.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.