Extracts

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

In Wonder, R. J. Palacio's life-affirming and sometimes heartbreaking story, a facially disfigured boy named August navigates his way through his first year at middle school. Read an extract from the opening chapters.

Part One

'Fate smiled and destiny laughed as she came to my cradle...' — Natalie Merchant, “Wonder”

Why I Didn’t Go to School

Next week I start fifth grade. Since I’ve never been to a real school before, I am pretty much totally and completely petrified. People think I haven’t gone to school because of the way I look, but it’s not that. It’s because of all the surgeries I’ve had. Twenty- seven since I was born. The bigger ones happened before I was even four years old, so I don’t remember those. But I’ve had two or three surgeries every year since then (some big, some small), and because I’m little for my age, and I have some other medical mysteries that doctors never really figured out, I used to get sick a lot. That’s why my parents decided it was better if I didn’t go to school. I’m much stronger now, though. The last surgery I had was eight months ago, and I probably won’t have to have any more for another couple of years.

Mom homeschools me. She used to be a children’s-book illustrator. She draws really great fairies and mermaids. Her boy stuff isn’t so hot, though. She once tried to draw me a Darth Vader, but it ended up looking like some weird mushroom- shaped robot. I haven’t seen her draw anything in a long time. I think she’s too busy taking care of me and Via.

I can’t say I always wanted to go to school because that wouldn’t be exactly true. What I wanted was to go to school, but only if I could be like every other kid going to school. Have lots of friends and hang out after school and stuff like that.

I have a few really good friends now. Christopher is my best friend, followed by Zachary and Alex. We’ve known each other since we were babies. And since they’ve always known me the way I am, they’re used to me. When we were little, we used to have playdates all the time, but then Christopher moved to Bridgeport in Connecticut. That’s more than an hour away from where I live in North River Heights, which is at the top tip of Manhattan. And Zachary and Alex started going to school. It’s funny: even though Christopher’s the one who moved far away, I still see him more than I see Zachary and Alex. They have all these new friends now. If we bump into each other on the street, they’re still nice to me, though. They always say hello.

I have other friends, too, but not as good as Christopher and Zack and Alex were. For instance, Zack and Alex always invited me to their birthday parties when we were little, but Joel and Eamonn and Gabe never did. Emma invited me once, but I haven’t seen her in a long time. And, of course, I always go to Christopher’s birthday. Maybe I’m making too big a deal about birthday parties.

How I Came to Life

I like when Mom tells this story because it makes me laugh so much. It’s not funny in the way a joke is funny, but when Mom tells it, Via and I just start cracking up.

So when I was in my mom’s stomach, no one had any idea I would come out looking the way I look. Mom had had Via four years before, and that had been such a “walk in the park” (Mom’s expression) that there was no reason to run any special tests. About two months before I was born, the doctors realized there was something wrong with my face, but they didn’t think it was going to be bad. They told Mom and Dad I had a cleft palate and some other stuff going on. They called it “small anomalies.”

There were two nurses in the delivery room the night I was born. One was very nice and sweet. The other one, Mom said, did not seem at all nice or sweet. She had very big arms and (here comes the funny part), she kept farting. Like, she’d bring Mom some ice chips, and then fart. She’d check Mom’s blood pressure, and fart. Mom says it was unbelievable because the nurse never even said excuse me! Meanwhile, Mom’s regular doctor wasn’t on duty that night, so Mom got stuck with this cranky kid doctor she and Dad nicknamed Doogie after some old TV show or something (they didn’t actually call him that to his face). But Mom says that even though everyone in the room was kind of grumpy, Dad kept making her laugh all night long.

When I came out of Mom’s stomach, she said the whole room got very quiet. Mom didn’t even get a chance to look at me because the nice nurse immediately rushed me out of the room. Dad was in such a hurry to follow her that he dropped the video camera, which broke into a million pieces. And then Mom got very upset and tried to get out of bed to see where they were going, but the farting nurse put her very big arms on Mom to keep her down in the bed. They were practically fighting, because Mom was hysterical and the farting nurse was yelling at her to stay calm, and then they both started screaming for the doctor. But guess what? He had fainted! Right on the floor! So when the farting nurse saw that he had fainted, she started pushing him with her foot to get him to wake up, yelling at him the whole time: “What kind of doctor are you? What kind of doctor are you? Get up! Get up!” And then all of a sudden she let out the biggest, loudest, smelliest fart in the history of farts. Mom thinks it was actually the fart that finally woke the doctor up. Anyway, when Mom tells this story, she acts out all the parts— including the farting noises—and it is so, so, so, so funny!

Mom says the farting nurse turned out to be a very nice woman. She stayed with Mom the whole time. Didn’t leave her side even after Dad came back and the doctors told them how sick I was. Mom remembers exactly what the nurse whispered in her ear when the doctor told her I probably wouldn’t live through the night: “Everyone born of God overcometh the world.” And the next day, after I had lived through the night, it was that nurse who held Mom’s hand when they brought her to meet me for the first time.

Mom says by then they had told her all about me. She had been preparing herself for the seeing of me. But she says that when she looked down into my tiny mushed-up face for the first time, all she could see was how pretty my eyes were.

Mom is beautiful, by the way. And Dad is handsome. Via is pretty. In case you were wondering.

Christopher’s House

I was really bummed when Christopher moved away three years ago. We were both around seven then. We used to spend hours playing with our Star Wars action figures and dueling with our lightsabers. I miss that.

Last spring we drove over to Christopher’s house in Bridgeport. Me and Christopher were looking for snacks in the kitchen, and I heard Mom talking to Lisa, Christopher’s mom, about my going to school in the fall. I had never, ever heard her mention school before.

“What are you talking about?” I said.

Mom looked surprised, like she hadn’t meant for me to hear that.

“You should tell him what you’ve been thinking, Isabel,” Dad said. He was on the other side of the living room talking to Christopher’s dad.

“We should talk about this later,” said Mom.

“No, I want to know what you were talking about,” I answered. “Don’t you think you’re ready for school, Auggie?” Mom said. “No,” I said.

“I don’t, either,” said Dad.

“Then that’s it, case closed,” I said, shrugging, and I sat in her lap like I was a baby.

“I just think you need to learn more than I can teach you,” Mom said. “I mean, come on, Auggie, you know how bad I am at fractions!”

“What school?” I said. I already felt like crying.

“Beecher Prep. Right by us.”

“Wow, that’s a great school, Auggie,” said Lisa, patting my knee.

“Why not Via’s school?” I said.

“That’s too big,” Mom answered. “I don’t think that would be a good fit for you.”

“I don’t want to,” I said. I admit: I made my voice sound a little babyish.

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” Dad said, coming over and lifting me out of Mom’s lap. He carried me over to sit on his lap on the other side of the sofa. “We won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

“But it would be good for him, Nate,” Mom said.

“Not if he doesn’t want to,” answered Dad, looking at me. “Not if he’s not ready.”

I saw Mom look at Lisa, who reached over and squeezed her hand.

“You guys will figure it out,” she said to Mom. “You always have.”

“Let’s just talk about it later,” said Mom. I could tell she and Dad were going to get in a fight about it. I wanted Dad to win the fight. Though a part of me knew Mom was right. And the truth is, she really was terrible at fractions.

 

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