Should Your Book Club Read Wonder by R.J Palacio?

As you all know, Literary Masters are book groups and salons where we dig deep into literary treasures!  This season, one of the books that Literary Masters Parent/Child book groups read was Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  If you read one book this year and one book only, make it Wonder.  You will laugh, you will cry, and you will come away with a true sense of…wonder.  If you can grab your child, your wife, your husband, your neighbor, your personal trainer, anyone really, to read it aloud to and share in the joy of this book, all the better.  R.J. Palacio has written a gem!

So, what can your book group (even if it’s just two of you) discuss?  I am just scratching the surface here; I could talk about this book over and over again and keep coming up with new subjects.  However, this should get you started:

Warp-speed plot summary:
August has a facial deformity.  A severe facial deformity, which he has had since birth.  He has been home-schooled up until now, but has decided to enter a traditional school for the first time; he will be in the fifth grade.  What a year it will be!  Told from the perspectives of August (Auggie), his sister Via, his schoolmate and friend Summer, his other schoolmate and friend Jack, Via’s boyfriend Justin, and Via’s childhood friend Miranda, this novel takes the reader along on Auggie’s journey–a transformative trip for all.

You’ll want to tackle some of the big questions that this book explores!  One of the big themes is identity.  August tells us that “…the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.”  You’ll want to ask yourselves: how much of who we are depends on how others see us?  What can we do when others see us in a way that feels false to us?

Auggie wishes we could all wear masks and get to know each other before seeing what each other looks like.  You’ll want to talk about how important our looks are to who we feel we are.  How much do our looks define us?  What is so special regarding a face when it comes to who we are?  Do we all wear masks of a certain kind anyway?

Another big question is: what does it mean to be normal?  Auggie’s sister Via says, “…we’ve all spent so much time trying to make August think he’s normal that he actually thinks he is normal.  And the problem is, he’s not.”  You’ll want to ask yourselves: What is normal?  How do we decide what is normal?  Who gets to say?  And is this right?  Are you normal?  Is “normal” good or bad?

Another theme to explore is kindness.  What does it mean to be kind?  Can we just be kind, or do we have to practice being kind?  Does it take effort to be kind?  This will, no doubt, bring up Mr. Browne’s Precepts, which could take up an entire book club session all on their own.  I can’t resist telling you here that my favorite precept is the one that Auggie came up with: “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the world.” 

I just teared up typing that.

On the flip side of kindness, you’ll want to explore who in the story is being mean.  And is the meanness always intentional?  Via struggles in her relationship with Auggie when she enters a new school.  Is she being mean?  Is she being reasonable?  How would you feel in her shoes?

You’ll want to talk about friendship and who Auggie’s true friends are.   And why we are drawn to certain people as friends as opposed to others.  Do we ever want someone to be our friend because it will make us cooler in general?  Isn’t this why we get excited if we come into contact with a celebrity–we feel cooler just for the fact that we’ve rubbed shoulders with someone who is famous?  And don’t we shun unpopular or undesirable people for the same reason–because we don’t to be perceived in the same way they are?  Ugliness by association?  It’s an ugly concept, that’s for sure.

You’ll want to understand what type of friend Charlotte is to Auggie, as opposed to what type Summer is.  And what about Jack?  And how about that Julian, huh?  What’s going on with him?  One of the questions posed in my Literary Masters book groups was “What character do you wish had a chance to narrate that didn’t?” and the answer was overwhelmingly Julian.  Everyone was curious to find out what was going on in Julian’s head.

And this is the coolest thing ever!  I guess it wasn’t just Literary Masters members who were wondering this because the author is now writing an e-book, The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story, all about Julian, to be released May 13.  HOW COOL IS THAT?  (Maybe she was listening to us, fellow LM members!)

Some of what you’ll want to talk about may make you uncomfortable.  But that’s good, because it means you are thinking!  How should “normal” people approach people with deformities?  Auggie doesn’t like it when no one will look at him, but he doesn’t want people staring at him.  Is he being fair?  Could he have done more to help others see beyond his facial deformity?  Could or should the school have done more?  What about Auggie’s parents?  You’ll want to talk about what kind of parents they are–again, this could take an entire book club session on its own!

If you’ve read all the way to here, thank you!  As you probably can tell, I LOVE this book and am enthusiastic about your reading it with your book club (however it may look in this case).  One last thing I will mention before I sign off on this very long blog post is: you’ll want to talk about the artwork and the title, the epigraphs, the poetry and song lyrics.

There’s more, there’s much more to discuss.  But for now:

Read this book.  Enjoy.  Discuss this book.  Enjoy.  Give this book to others.  Enjoy.  This book is a wonder.



7 thoughts on “Should Your Book Club Read Wonder by R.J Palacio?

  1. Dear Liz,
    I teach seventh grade English in Massachusetts, and this past summer our “One Book, One School” reading assignment was Wonder. Thank you for the work you did in writing your blog. I am going to use some of your insightful questions and thoughts as prompts for small group and whole class discussions on the novel. I can't wait!

  2. Hi Erika,

    Thanks so much this–I'm so glad you're going to use questions from my post, and I'm thrilled you'll be using Wonder to teach your 7th graders! Let me know how it goes if you have the time; I'd love to hear what the students have to say. And thanks for all the work you put in as a teacher!

  3. Hi Tori,

    Great! I hope you have a terrific discussion. I think the world would be a much better place if everyone read Wonder. Enjoy, and if you find the time, let me know how your discussion goes.

    Liz

  4. Thank you! Great prompts and ideas, and I agree wholeheartedly about this great book. I am using these discussion prompts with my college Adapted Physical Education course for future educators. I appreciate the help!

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