I adore this book for many reasons. I don’t believe i’ve ever cried so much reading a middle grade novel. Yes, I’m a big softie, but I dare you to get through this thing without at least two tissues.
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
When I first heard about this book, I was wondering how the author was going to pull it off without making the story too “After School Special.” She manages beautifully.
Told in multiple perspectives that bring a depth and authenticity to the work, it’s still completely accessible and family-friendly, with no violence or vulgarity. If I were an elementary school teacher, I’d use this book in the classroom to discuss everything from feeling different to bullying.
You have to understand, that it’s not the extreme facial deformity that kept Augie out of school. In his 10 years, he’s had 24 reconstructive surgeries, and for the first time there’s a long break from them, allowing him to attend a public school. He is small for his age as well and was not expected to live.
We start from Augie’s POV as he’s about to enter 5th grade. We then get pieces of the story told by his sister, two of his school friends (one who breaks his heart), his sister’s boyfriend, and his sister’s best friend. I love the chapters by Augie’s sister Olivia (“Via”) because she had to understand at an early age, that Augie’s needs come first. She says she’s not being noble, but that once you’ve seen your baby brother with his jaw wired shut and IV tubes poking out all over his body, it seems kinda dumb to get upset about not getting that new toy.
As August is entering public school for the first time, Via is entering high school and dealing with her best friends’ shunning. She has always been protective of August, but now she feels guilty because she doesn’t want her new high school peers to know about him. She wants an independence separate from him and doesn’t want to be known as “the girl with the deformed brother.”
The premise is simple, and the characters drawn fairly complex for a middle grade novel. The bully and his mom may be a bit one-dimensional, but that’s also because we never get their POV. As a class exercise, I think I’d have my students write a chapter based on the bully’s POV.
This is such a feel-good story at the end that you’ll be crying all over again, but it’s not schlocky or too bubblegum. It’s both heart-wrenching and heart-warming.
for more Middle Grade Monday hi-jinx, visit Shannon Messenger’s blog