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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 37/100: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder - R.J. Palacio

I had heard so many good things about this book that, even though it didn't particularly interest me, I think I went into it with expectations that were a little too high.

It's an incredibly well written book, with believable, vivid characters that each have their own distinct "voices." The portrayal of fifth grade, that strange time between being a child and being a teen, and all the confusion and posturing that goes with it, was spot-on. I found the kids to be totally believable in both their best and their worst moments. I found the adults to be less so -- they seemed to be painted almost universally as wonderful, nurturing, understanding, patient, wise, etc. While this is a nice change from the absent or incompetent adults we often see in books for this age group, it reeked a little too much of wishful thinking. Except for a bit of tension in the beginning, we never see August's parents bicker or become weary or resentful of the many challenges his health conditions present them with. Which is great, I'm glad he had such a great family when he had so many physical issues to work through, but since having a child with special needs is a major source of stress on families and marriages, the smooth sailing of his home life just didn't feel totally believable to me. I also found myself preoccupied with what August's father did for a living -- his mother seems to have given up her career to be her children's primary caretaker, but his medical needs must have been expensive, and the family doesn't seem to ever be under any financial strain, and I wanted to know how they managed to pull all that off. A kid would never worry about it -- but we DID get to learn the careers of one of the less wealthy kids, so I wondered why we didn't get to know how the wealthier parents were making the big bucks.

Because of August's family's seemingly comfortable financial status, this read like a book of "privilege" even though it most definitely is not. No amount of money could make August privileged when he has to live with the fear, disgust, and scorn of uncaring or misguided kids and adults. What is probably most important about this book is that it represents in literature something that has never been presented before, and as such it tells a very important story that was a long-time coming. But because August was "lucky" enough to have a family with no seeming limit on their financial resources, I found myself wanting to see how a child with his issues would have fared in a more typical middle-class or poorer family.

Probably the final aspect that kept this book from getting four stars despite its great writing and characterization was the ending chapter, which just felt totally unsatisfying to me, and more like the way a movie should end than a book. I could almost hear the music swelling in the background. That might have given the emotional resonance necessary to wrap it up in another format, but in the medium of the book, it just didn't cut it for me.