Born with a terrible facial deformity ten-year-old August (Auggie) Pullman just wants to be ordinary. His parents have home schooled him to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, his mother has decided, it is time for August to take one giant leap and go to mainstream school. He is terrified. What will his classmates think of him?
Narrated by Auggie and those close to him, his sister Olivia (Via), Auggie’s friends Summer and Jack, Olivia’s boyfriend Justin, and Olivia's ex-friend Miranda. Each one has in some way been touched by Auggie’s life.
The principal of middle school, Mr Tushman, is positive from the outset. He believes absolutely that Auggie can be integrated into his school and enlists a band of helpers he deems suitable to assist with Auggie’s smooth transition into school.
The story tracks Auggie’s first year in school, the trials and tribulations, and the revelations. At the start Auggie largely relies on Summer and Jack who befriend him in the midst of a seemingly cold and heartless school. By being Auggie’s friend Summer and Jack have been ostracized by their peers. Both deal with the implications in different ways.
Auggie’s sister, Olivia or Via as Auggie calls her, has her own difficulties adjusting to a new school. Her parents are so concerned with Auggie’s new start that Via’s own issues fall largely unnoticed at home. She is trying to carve out a place for herself without conforming so much that she loses sight of who she is.
The brilliance of this novel lies in the fact that it is narrated by Auggie and his peers. The reader experiences Auggie’s integration not from the parents or teacher’s point of view, but from those closest to him at school. In the hot house environment of a school, cruelty and kindness can lie side by side. Auggie and his fellow students must make decisions to survive the, at times, brutality of their environment.
It is the early stages of integration that, as Palacio highlights, is so integral to a smooth transition. The careful planning and positive attitude of the school sets the tone for the entire school’s attitude towards Auggie.
R.J. Palacio has told Auggie’s story with such insight. Through her narrators she shows how supporting a child with special needs can draw students together and have a positive outcome on all those supporting the child.
There are so many aspects of this book that make it special. The masterful narration by a ten-year-old, the inclusion of Mr Browne’s heart warming precepts and the sheer beauty of the story.
This is a book that should hold pride of place in every school library for students and for teachers.
I was so taken by this book that I have asked to interview R.J. Palacio. She has agreed and I am thrilled.
If you have read the book and have any questions you would like to ask her please leave them in the comments section. I will try and get to them all.
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