by R.J. Palacio (Bodley Head, 2012)
"I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go."
Oh, what a treat of a book! In August Pullman, Palacio has created one of the most loveable and memorable characters in modern children's literature. August is ten years old, and is a completely normal little boy in every way but one - he was born with severe facial disfigurement. The book opens as his mother tries to persuade him that it might be time to go to 'real school' for the first time. August has always been loved, protected - and taught - by his family, but during his year in the fifth grade of Beecher Prep, life is going to be very different.
Auggie's story is pretty irresistable reading. Switching between various viewpoints as the book progresses, including Auggie himself, his sister Via and his friends Jack and Summer, the author deftly explores the effects of Auggie's disfigurement on his life and the lives of everyone around him. It's a clever device that allows the reader to not only get inside Auggie's head as he faces the trials and tribulations of school life, but also to get the wider picture of how other people are coping, what people are saying, and how his new friends react to the pressure being placed on them by the less savoury characters at school.
It should come as no surprise that while Palacio offers much to smile, laugh and chortle over in this novel - it is lightly written, quite amusing and her children's voices are spot-on - there were also parts that made me frown, parts that made my eyes open wide with horror, and parts that made me tear up with indignation. It's a sad fact of life that a lot of kids (and a lot of parents) are relentlessly cruel to people who are perceived to be 'different' - and that's exactly what makes this book so important. I'd go as far as to say that it should be required reading for every child.
From start to finish the emphasis is on kindness and courage. Palacio doesn't steer away from moral gray areas - her characters make mistakes along the way and things aren't always as they seem - but ultimately she shows very clearly how bullying and insensitive behaviour can have a harmful ripple effect on people's lives, and how strength, friendship, compassion and good humour are always the better choices. I finished the book with tears in my eyes, a smile on my face - and a little place in my heart reserved for Auggie. Highly recommended!
- "I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks." - Auggie
- "... waking up to a snow day is just about my favorite thing in the world. I love that feeling when you first open your eyes in the morning and you don't even know why everything seems different than usual. Then it hits you: Everything is quiet. No cars honking. No buses going down the street. Then you run over to the window, and outside everything is covered in white: the sidewalks, the trees, the cars on the street, your windowpanes. And when that happens on a school day and you find out your school is closed, well, I don't care how old I get: I'm always going to think that that's the best feeling in the world. And I'm never going to be one of those grown-ups that use an umbrella when it's snowing - ever." - Jack
- "It's like people you see sometimes, and you can't imagine what it would be like to be that person, whether it's somebody in a wheelchair or somebody who can't talk. Only, I know that I'm that person to other people... To me, though, I'm just me. An ordinary kid." - Auggie
Note: Many thanks to the lovely folks at Random House Children's Books, who sent me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
I'm giving away my gently-used ARC of this book to one of my UK readers. If you fancy getting a taste of the Auggie magic for yourself, just leave a comment on this review with your email address, and I'll choose a winner at random sometime next week. Good luck!
**The giveaway is now CLOSED**
**The giveaway is now CLOSED**