My fifth grade son and my teacher wife had both read Wonder, and told me it was a solid novel. I bought the poster for my office, and signed up to interview one of the producers. But R.J. Palacio's story, about a fifth grader with Treacher Collins syndrome who enrolls in public school, blew me away.
You can't blend in when you were born to stand out. --Via Pullman
This is a story about one young man and his amazing journey from solitude into community, but along the way, it's the story of how a group of school kids discovery that they can choose kindness.
When his parents (Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts) send Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) to private school Beecher Prep, he's worried that no one will ever accept him because of the way his genes caused deformities to his cheeks, eyes, chin, and ears. While the principal, Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin), pushes several students toward Auggie in an attempt to make him feel welcome, the reactions vary from the kind, Jack Will (Noah Jupe), to the cruel, Julian (Bryce Gheisar).
We all have marks on our face. This is the map that shows us where we're going (the heart) and this is the map that shows us where we've been (the face). -- Isabel Pullman
While Auggie's parents have kept him sheltered - he even wears an astronaut helmet at times in public - his sudden explosure to the violence of public perception and bullying proves critical to his own growth and the growth of his classmates. His mother has of course instilled in him the understanding of what it means to be a person, and his father has willed him to stand up tall, but it's in the community of his peers that he discovers what it means to be Auggie Pullman.
A side storyline is that of Auggie's sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), who must find her own way, as the 'other' child, as the sister of a young man who is considered strange. Somehow, in the midst of Auggie's developments, the storyline allows us to see that everyone is on a journey, that they're not all the same, and yet, they're all important.
Your deeds are your monuments.--Mr. Browne
One of the most powerful aspects of the story is the way that the people around Auggie are changed by his presence. He's the catalyst for them to see themselves and the way they really are, to see the things they've been taught and the ways they've come to expect the world to behave, like one classmate's parents who degrade Tushman for saying things like "he can't change the way he looks, so manybe we can change the way we see." That's not the real world, right? So it's blown off as being naive, or worse, an impossible hope.
Each character is given the opportunity to make choices, to choose kindness, and under Stephen Chbosky's direction, the script doesn't write off anyone's chances for repentance and change. I literally wanted to stand and cheer, to channel the hope this movie provides into action. I'll settle for the time being for telling my children I love them, for reminding them of their opportunities for compassion, for choosing kindness for myself.
Meet Auggie Pullman. He could change your world.