Monday, July 21, 2014

The Wonder continues…sort of

A couple of summers ago, I raved about Wonder by R.J. Palacio. 

Here’s an excerpt from that blog posting:

Wonder is about a boy with significant facial abnormalities.  He’s going to school for the first time, starting grade 5 and he’s nervous, to say the least.  Once school starts, there are a few difficulties that must be sorted through and challenges to be met.  Auggie does make friends on his own, learning much about himself and others along the way.  Some of the issues Auggie deals with are the same as many middle school kids – making and keeping friends, becoming more independent, issues about popularity, bullying. There are times he wants to quit but doesn't.  There are times he’s incredibly happy to be where he is. 
 In a word it’s – wonderful, and fits well with the idea ‘perspective’.  Though the book is told by several different people or points of view (Auggie, his sister, her boyfriend, and a couple of his friends), we can start analysing the characters to see what defines or shades their perspectives.  I see potential for looking at some of the minor characters who don’t talk to us directly but are important to the storyline, such as the principal, Mr. Tushman, or the mother of one of the boys who gives Auggie a hard time.  Who are they? What motivates them? And what is their perspective?

Just recently, I came across The Julian Chapter.   “How interesting,” I thought.  “Maybe I’ll get a few answers to my questions.”

Seeing as how I could immediately download it to my iPad, I did so and promptly set to reading.

And it was interesting how the author gave Julian, the bully-type character in Wonder a second chance to have his side of the story aired.  As you might expect, he’s a boy who feels pretty entitled to whatever he deems ‘his’ and is often backed up by his officious mother.  Julian doesn't like Auggie, pure and simple.  Auggie’s deformities disturb him greatly and to such an extent that it taps into anxieties and fears that he has experienced since he was a young child.  Feeling repulsed and not understanding why others aren't also repulsed and some even seem to willing tolerate Auggie, confuses Julian to no end.  In fact, one of his best buddies appears to genuinely like Auggie which only antagonizes Julian further.

As Julian tells us his side of the story, it’s unlikely you’re going to feel much sympathy for him. And you’re not supposed to.  His mother is a piece-of-work and will have you sighing or grinding your teeth.   Julian is definitely lacking in empathy which is what comes out in discussions between Julian, his parents, teachers and principal.  He just doesn't know better, which is a bit simplistic.

It takes a summer visit with his French Grandmother to put things into perspective for Julian.  I was relieved to see that he finally comes around to understanding what had gone on during the prior school year.  He realizes that fear was driving him and he does eventually write Auggie an apology.

This is a short story told in very short chapters.  It continues the story of Wonder which was kind of nice to tap into again.  But it was a little too pointed in purpose to really capture the same tone the novel did.

I can see it being used in a classroom, no problem.  It provides another perspective and really brings home the idea that we are all ‘stars’ in our own lives.  It will provide opportunities to discuss bullying and empathy.  It will allow those kids who really bought into the story to continue a bit further and hear Julian’s voice, too.  It won’t give them more of Auggie , his wonderful family or friends.  It will be reassuring to think that a bully can change his ways and that as Julian’s grandmother tells him, he’s not  to define himself by a mistake, or by a single action, and that he can do the right thing to make things right (paraphrased, in case you’re wondering).

This seems to be available only electronically as either audio or e-text.


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