I recently reread Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, for the fourth or fifth time, and the other day I watched the movie for the second. It’s been on my mind this week, especially because of world events that have led me to reflect on the importance of kindness and tolerance. So this week, I wanted to talk about a book (and film) that masterfully examines these important qualities.
Wonder is one of those books that I find myself constantly recommending. If you’ve read it, you probably already know why. If you haven’t, you really, really should. A 2012 bestseller, the book was written at an appropriate level for young readers, but is a powerful and inspiring experience no matter how old you are. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the concept (from the Amazon product description):
Wonder is an incredibly powerful story. Every character feels completely authentic, and the reader is completely drawn into the struggles, setbacks, and triumphs that Auggie, his family, and his friends experience. The rotating perspectives continuously add new layers to the story, and the book is far more sophisticated than your average elementary level book. That achievement is worth mentioning again, because it’s such a rare thing. My eight year old niece read, understood, and loved this book, and so did I, and my sister, and my mother.
In telling Auggie’s story, Palacio presents the best and worst in people, showing how both children and adults have the potential to be extraordinarily kind and casually (or spitefully) cruel. And she does it in a way that feels incredibly real. There’s no oversimplified “totally good or totally evil” motif here. The book acknowledges that you can love someone while still sometimes resenting the sacrifices you make for them. It recognizes that going against the crowd is hard, and that not everyone has the strength to do it all the time. It presents that painful truth that we struggle with how to react to someone who is different, and that sometimes those differences are frightening. And rather than chastising us for that truth, the book implies that it’s ok to feel that way, because the important part is how we respond to it.
Wonder is a powerful, thought-provoking book that resonates and stays with you long after you’ve finished it. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.
I’m always nervous when a book is adapted to film. The vast majority of the time, I’m disappointed, and frequently I’m downright furious. Sometimes, though, the movie gets it right, capturing the essence of the book, adding new dimensions, and making intelligent choices regarding what elements will and won’t translate effectively.
Wonder is one of those movies. The essential plot and thematic elements are all present, and the things that were changed all make sense for the medium, never straying from the heart of the story. It is so clear that the screenplay was written with care, intelligence, and understanding.
The movie does what a movie should do: makes the characters even more real, adds new textures and detail to the story, and enhances the book’s already powerful impact. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson are brilliant as Auggie’s parents, and Jacob Tremblay (one of the most talented young actors I’ve ever seen) gives a stunning performance as Auggie.
In either form, Wonder is something so, so worth experiencing (or experiencing again).
Thoughts? Comments? What’s on your mind today?