“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio

wonderThe Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less:  Auggie Pullman was born with a severe craniofacial difference that has set him apart from others since birth.  He has endured over a dozen surgeries to cosmetically craft his face and make his eating and speech easier.  Home schooled all of his life, this year he is entering Middle School and must mix with the general population of children his own age.  As he begins the school year, Auggie fortunately makes friends with Summer and Jack Will, but a clique of popular kids set their sights on torturing him.  Will Auggie make it through the school year and survive the cruel social nightmare of Middle School?

My Take:   Believe the hype.  This book was so good and it lived up to its acclaim.  I was relieved because I had just finished reading Divergent by Veronia Roth, another very popular book, and I could barely get through it.  But Wonder kept its promise.  What struck me as excellent was Palacio’s ear for convincing dialogue and details.    The mean notes slipped into lockers, the fickle friendships, the lunchroom social cliques– all of these details impress upon the reader the cruelty of Middle School.  As Auggie endures the searing trial of  making it through 5th grade, we as readers are right along with him and hoping that he can survive the year.  Goosebumps on my arm at the end told me that this book is special, that it is a book that needs to read by as many people as possible, to remind us all, without saccharine sentimentality, that a little extra kindness is a wonderful thing.

One Interesting Note About the Author:  R. J. Palacio decided to write this book after she and her sons had an uncomfortable encounter with a girl with a severe craniofacial difference outside of an ice cream shop.



See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles

See you at Harry's

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Series?  No

Audience Age:  12-16

Rating (1-5):  3

The story in no more than five sentences:

Middle school for Fern is off to a bad start.   Her family owns a restaurant and her dad has created a commercial that features every member of the family shouting “See You At Harry’s!”  Her older brother Holden, mercilessly teased at school for being gay, seems to be withdrawing from the family and towards his much older boyfriend.  The one bright spot is that she is growing closer to her cute friend Rand and he has a way of making everything seem alright.  When a tragic event occurs, the bonds within Fern’s family are tested to their utmost limits.

 The best part about the book in 1 sentence:

­­­­­­­­­­The best part of this book is the realistic and open portrayal of Holden’s sexuality in High School.

The worst part of the book in 1 sentence:

The worst part of this book is the cover that does not capture the inner tension within the book.

1 interesting note about the author:

Jo Knowles’s parents actually owned a restaurant in New Hampshire where she grew up.  Find out more at www.joknowles.com


Lunch-box Dream by Tony Abbott

It is the summer of 1959 and Bobby and his brother Ricky are on a road trip with their mother and grandmother driving from Cleveland, Ohio down to Florida.  The reason for the trip is to drive grandma back home, but on their way they are touring Civil War battlefields.

Much farther south, an African American boy by the name of Jacob is taking the bus from Atlanta to go visit some relatives that live out in the country in Dalton, Georgia.   He will spend a week there fishing with his uncle and spending time with his cousin.

Despite the seemingly pleasant circumstances surrounding both of these trips, each boy soon finds that disturbing events are beginning to affect their lives.  Touring Civil War battlefields across the country, Bobby slowly realizes that his mother has decided on this trip to get them away from their abusive father and for her to decide if she wants to end the marriage.  While in Dalton, Georgia, Jacob discovers that his big city behavior, his whistling and carrying on, does not sit well with the white people in the small town.

As the book progresses, the reader slowly realizes that we are watching these families geographically moving towards each other and, perhaps, to an explosion of violence.  The tension soon rises on both sides.  Bobby’s mother crashes the car outside of Chickamauga in a spasm of fear trying to drive away from some well intentioned black people.  They will have to take the bus home.  Meanwhile, Jacob has turned up missing in Dalton.  His family back in Atlanta boards the very same bus in hysteria knowing, just knowing, that their boy has been killed by some country whites.

Author Tony Abbott deftly builds up each of the characters, exposing a history of violence and abuse in both families.   The ending is as touching as it is painful and leaves open the questions of how these young men will continue to navigate a world and society that is fundamentally unjust.  Excellent YA literature dealing with racism, family ties, abuse, brothers, and road trips.


Because of Anya by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Ten year old Anya has a secret that she wants to keep: she’s wearing a wig.  Her real hair has begun to fall out due to an auto immune disease known as Alopecia Areata.  School is hard enough, but when you don’t have hair, the thought of facing your peers is almost unbearable.  Anya struggles to maintain her composure in the face of various obstacles: the constant itching of her scalp, gym class, and the stares of the class bully Steph Englewood.  Margaret Peterson Haddix does an excellent job presenting how children feel as outsiders.  I enjoyed reading this sometimes painful glimpse into the world of people that don’t fit in.  Ages 8-11