WonderÂ by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Anti-bullying is the new black. Of course, the reason why nothing is REALLY ever the new black is because every new black is really just the flavor of the month. And being against bullying is the flavor of the month. (Please. Is anyone FOR bullying?) Oy, so much talk about bullying right now, to so little effect! Most of the portrayals of bullying we get in books, movies, TV and news stories are reductive, and the solutions we’re offered are preachy and/or non-real-world, and the disconnect between language and action is huge. Most ADULTS, let alone kids, don’t see the gulf between the way they talk about bullying and the way they act, (subtly or not-subtly), like homophobic, fat-phobic, difference-phobic, inclusion-phobic, classist, racist, privileged, we (I, my kid, etc)-are-brilliant-and-special-and-everyone-else-is-less-brilliant-and-less-special douchenozzles. Look, I’m so irked my syntax is going.
Anyway, I loved Wonder for a zillion reasons, but the primary one is it should be the one book EVERY MIDDLE SCHOOL KID reads about bullying. It makes the importance of allies and bystanders really clear — simply going along with the popular crowd, when they’re being mean or smirky to someone they consider less-than, makes you part of the problem. The book makes it clear how hard it is to do the right thing. And it’s a BOOK, not a sermon. This is a great story. (Two-sentence summary: Kid with horrid facial deformities starts going to school for the first time after years of being home schooled. And he starts in MIDDLE SCHOOL.) I liked the fact that different sections had different narrators. And that the writing is utterly un-showy. (I’ve been reading a lot of lyrical stuff lately and it’s nice to read something so direct.) And that it’s a very quick, fluid read — I think MOST kids will really like it, not just book-loving kids. It’s moving, and it’s not pedantic, and there’s humor (and my GOD there is a lot of Star Wars stuff). Yay. Adults who enjoy kidlit should read this as a way to talk to their kids about standing up to their friends when their friends are acting dicky. (And the portrayal of a popular, powerful ADULT mom whose helicopter-y, bad-behavior-excusing conduct lets her kid continue to be a bully SHOULD make parents squirm.) And I think it could help a lot of people recognize that they themselves have been bullies, not just allies to bullies and bystanders to bullying. The ending was maybe too tidy, so I’ll give it four stars as a work of literature and one more for wearing its importance so lightly.
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