Review posted March 31, 2012.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2012. 315 pages.
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Other Children's Fiction
August Pullman has never been to school before. Not because he has a disability, but because he's always been recovering from one surgery or another to attempt to fix his face. It was always easier to homeschool him. So now he's starting fifth grade at Beecher Prep Middle School, and he doesn't quite know what to expect.
Auggie doesn't actually tell us how he looks. He says that however you imagine it, he looks worse. He knows the looks people give him. He's used to the averted eyes and people trying not to stare, but going to school makes it all new.
Being at school was awful in the beginning. Every new class I had was like a new chance for kids to 'not stare' at me. They would sneak peeks at me from behind their notebooks or when they thought I wasn't looking. They would take the longest way around me to avoid bumping into me in any way, like I had some germ they could catch, like my face was contagious.
In the hallways, which were always crowded, my face would always surprise some unsuspecting kid who maybe hadn't heard about me. The kid would make the sound you make when you hold your breath before going underwater, a little 'uh!' sound. This happened maybe four or five times a day for the first few weeks: on the stairs, in front of the lockers, in the library, Five hundred kids in a school: eventually every one of them was going to see my face at some time. And I knew after the first couple of days that word had gotten around about me, because every once in a while I'd catch a kid elbowing his friend as they passed me, or talking behind their hands as I walked by them. I can only imagine what they were saying about me. Actually, I prefer not to even try to imagine it.
The book gets yet more interesting about 80 pages in, when the author starts giving us sections from other people's perspectives. Auggie's sister. Various friends and acquaintances. We see some of the same events through new eyes, but we also see new events unfold around Auggie.
When the book starts, Auggie seems very realistically overprotected. He's always been homeschooled, and with his birth defects, his parents, especially his Mom, have always been protective of him. He still displays his love of all things Star Wars, and he cries easily. The growing up process is not easy, but we see Auggie make some strides.
This book covers the whole school year, with lots of interactions and events that happen because of Auggie. There's plenty of Middle School humor; these feel like genuine fifth-graders, and there's lots to make kids laugh. But the book also strikes deep, making the reader think: How much do I judge by appearances?
I think this book is going to be a contender for next year's Newbery Medal.