by R.J. Palacio
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
I think it’s fair to call Wonder the biggest sensation in children’s lit in quite some time, but I’ll do a brief summary just for posterity. This is the story of 10-year-old August Pullman, who was born with a genetic craniofacial abnormality. Due to the dozens of surgeries he’s had in his life, his mother has homeschooled him, but now the family decides he’s ready to start school and they enroll him in a private school in Manhattan. Mostly the book consists of following Auggie through his first year of school, enduring the stares and the social outcast status, until he makes friends and ultimately wins a school award for character and strength.
I first read Wonder when it came out, and years later I’m still getting kids who want readalikes for it. While most of the book is incredibly touching, even five years after its publication it already seems so trite and just an “issue book” (where nothing really happens, it’s just about the main character having his unique feature). Especially the award – even Auggie says in the book that he doesn’t really get why he won it, that it seems like he just got it for being himself and living his life of challenges – seems so trite that I docked it a star. My adults-who-read-kids-books book club leader chose this one knowing we’ve all read it and I’m sure this will be a lot of the focus of the discussion on Thursday.
But enough Debbie Downer, onto the comparison. This book/movie comparison will be a little different because I may have more trouble than usual keeping apart what happened in the book vs. the movie. I was halfway through re-reading the book when I found myself on a long flight recently and I watched the movie to pass the time, then finished the book. But here goes, my best attempt!
The book switches voices frequently to show the same event from different perspectives. The movie does this too, but just once per character, since it’s a lot easier to tell who the focus is on visually. They did a great job getting into the minor characters’ back stories, like Via’s friend Miranda and Auggie’s classmates Jack and Julian. As always, they omitted some details and changed others around in ways that don’t add to or simplify the story in a meaningful way. Notably, they eliminated the storyline of Auggie getting hearing aids, changed up Summer and Jack’s befriending of Auggie, and took out Julian’s suspension in the movie. Also, while Via’s boyfriend, Justin, is racially ambiguous in the book, he is described as having “long hair” (which to me suggested he was not black) while in the movie he is black and has short hair. He is also given as the reason she joins the drama club and tries out for the school play in the movie, and I liked that development.
I was pleased to see that they did not really change the death of the family dog much at all, and that they added more to Via’s backstory, especially with her grandmother, in the movie. When I first saw the trailer, I was annoyed that the film did not portray Auggie’s facial features as drastically different as I’d imagined, but I got over that. Overall, solid performances and a script that stays very, very true to the original story, with chunks of dialogue lifted right from the book.