Author: R.J. Palacio
Publisher: Corgi Children's Books
August (Auggie) was born with genetic facial abnormalities. As he puts it himself, at the start of the story: "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." Since he was born, Auggie has undergone a series of surgeries on his face. He has been home schooled up to now, but his parents decide that it is probably time for him to try and attend school. Eventually Auggie agrees to their plan. It is very hard indeed for Auggie to settle into school, because he is naturally very aware of the reactions of his peers and his teachers to his face. Gradually, he makes some friends - Summer comes to sit with him in the canteen on the first day, and becomes one of his closest allies. He is also friendly with a boy called Jack, until he overhears him talking behind his back. Auggie gradually becomes aware that many of the children are deliberately staying away from him - a bully called Julian has started a game called 'The Plague', where the children must avoid touching Auggie. Events come to a head at Camp, when some older boys threaten Auggie. Suddenly the children who had been so nasty to him before stand by him. Finally, Auggie is accepted into his peer group. Julian is expelled from the school for bullying. The story ends with Auggie's graduation from fifth grade. He wins a special award for greatness, and as the middle school director gives him the medal, he explains why Auggie has won it: "He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts."
This is a deeply moving story and I'm not ashamed to say that I was wiping the tears from my eyes as I finished it. The story is told from various different viewpoints - first we hear from August, then from his sister Via, then from his friend Summer, and so on. From the start, it is clear that Auggie is a very special child, for his bravery and for his acceptance of his situation. Auggie never feels sorry for himself. His kindness gradually draws in the other children, and the other children learn an awful lot about themselves, and about true friendship, through getting to know Auggie better. The story reminded me a lot of "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving, in its sensitive portrayal of a boy struggling to fit into a society that struggles with those who are different. This is a book that will challenge your children to think about what being a good friend, and being kind to others, really means. Highly recommended, just remember to have a box of tissues handy when you read it.