Review: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story (Wonder, #1.5), by R. J. Palacio

The Julian Chapter: A Wonder StoryThe Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved ‘Wonder’ and think that everyone should read/listen to it at least once. However, with all of the different viewpoints offered, I felt like one of the most important POVs had been skipped. As much as I detested Julian in ‘Wonder’, I really wanted to know exactly what made him such a mean kid. How does a child learn to behave so hatefully?

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person that felt that Julian’s POV was needed. Immediately upon finishing ‘Wonder’, I went in search of Julian’s POV and I lucked out. The author wrote a separate short story to tell Julian’s side of the story. Of course, I dived right into Julian’s story right away and it proved to be a great decision.

I have to admit that as much as I wanted to hear Julian’s side of events and learn about what motivated him, I was a bit hesitant. Julian was a character that made me feel anger and rage at his actions. I had to keep reminding myself while reading ‘Wonder’ that he was just a child and that he probably didn’t fully grasp the impact of his words. Starting this book, I was worried that I wouldn’t find any redeeming qualities in Julian and that I would spend hours being upset by his callous behavior. Thankfully, my fears were unwarranted.

‘The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story’ takes place toward the end of the school year and the following summer. It begins when Julian is caught leaving mean notes for Auggie and Jack in their lockers. The Principal and school counselor are tipped off and are able to intervene, finding an especially cruel note before Auggie does.

While Julian’s actions were inexcusable, his family dynamics spoke volumes. I was immediately taken aback by his parents lack of concern for his behavior and their obsession with public image. It was clear to me that this is where Julian’s troubles really started. As a parent, I was appalled by these shallow individuals. Julian’s mother even went so far as to photo-shop Auggie out of the class photo! I just have no words.

Initially, Julian is defensive and doesn’t really grasp the severity of his actions. However, as the story progresses – and with no help from his parents – he comes to see the error of his ways. His grandmother, whom he spends his summer vacation with in France, is instrumental in this.

Julian’s grandmother tells him about a boy that she knew when she was younger. He was disabled and often treated cruelly by the children in the village because they were afraid of him. As a young Jewish girl, hunted by the Nazis, it was this boy that ended up saving her life. Despite the mistreatment that he had endured, he showed kindness and bravery. He risked his own life to save a girl that had never paid him much attention, except to avoid him.

After hearing his grandmother’s story, Julian is able to connect the empathize with Auggie. Finally, he feels genuine remorse for his actions and understands exactly what he did. It was like he turned a new leaf and I really liked this new Julian.

I’m very glad that I read Julian’s story. I was worried about what I would get when I started it, but it did not disappoint. I especially liked Julian’s grandmother. She provided the guidance and wisdom that Julian’s parents failed to.

On the flip side, I could not so easily forgive Julian’s parents. Yes, they too came around a bit at the end, but only with the grandmother twisting their arms. Some explanations were offered for Julian’s mother’s behavior, but I found them to be weak at best. Julian may have been a child, but his parents were not. They should’ve known better. I just couldn’t get past that.

Overall, this was a fantastic story. He isn’t an easy character to like, but this book serves as a reminder that even bullies are human. Despite his despicable behavior toward Auggie, Julian was only a child in need of some direction and positive role models. In the end, he becomes a better person. If you enjoyed ‘Wonder’, I would definitely recommend this one.

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Review: Wonder (Wonder, #1), by R. J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! I am so glad that I finally got around to listening to this story. ‘Wonder’ had been sitting on my TBR list for a really long time, but I had been waiting for a time to listen to it with my daughters. That time finally arrived last weekend, when we had to spend a full day in the car on a trip.

I had read many great reviews for this book, so I had really high hopes going into it. In fact, I was worried that I would be disappointed, as I often am with a book that is surrounded by so much hype. However, I can say that this book did not let me down in any way. In fact, it exceeded every expectation that I had. I absolutely loved this story!

‘Wonder’ tells the story of a young boy, August Pullman aka “Auggie”, who is going to begin attending school for the first time ever. Auggie has been homeschooled for years by his mother because he was born with severe facial deformities, requiring multiple operations over the course of his young life. Despite the myriad of surgeries that he has undergone, he still lives with significant facial disfigurement. Now, Auggie will be entering the fifth grade at Beecher Prep.

Told from multiple POVs, this book provides a thorough account of Auggie’s experiences. I was especially impressed with the raw honesty of his sister’s POV. Growing up with Auggie wasn’t easy, as she always came second to his needs. She struggled with resentment and guilt over having those feelings, as she truly loved her brother but craved the attention of her parents also.

Auggie’s POV was also brutally honest. He was well aware of how other people viewed him. Yet, no amount of awareness can make a child immune to the stares and cruel words. His story was heartbreaking, but inspiring.

It was also easy to relate to the POVs of others, including Jack, the boy who befriends Auggie at school. Although some of his actions were upsetting, he was only human. I had to remind myself that he was just a young boy, battling his own insecurities and trying to fit in at a very impressionable age. Even good people do bad things sometimes.

As a parent, I both admired and sympathized with Auggie’s mother. My heart went out to her. I could only imagine how difficult it would be to enroll your child into school, wanting to provide as normal a life as possible, while also wanting to shelter and protect him. I don’t know what I would’ve done in her shoes.

Not surprisingly, this was an incredibly emotional story. At times, it was downright depressing. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Auggie and his resilience. This story broke my heart, but it also inspired me.

Most importantly, this story will make you reflect on your views and behaviors. This story highlights the cruelty of people’s actions, bred from ignorance and fear. Never have I read a story that so effectively prompts readers to examine the impact of their actions and words. For children, this was a wonderful lesson in empathy.

This book prompted some thoughtful discussion with my daughters (5 and 10) about bullying and the “golden rule”. Although some of the story went over the head of my 5 year-old, who was primarily hung-up on the hilarity of the “farting nurse”, my 10 year-old didn’t miss a beat. I have no doubt that this story will stick with her and make her more considerate and empathetic toward other children.

‘Wonder’ is the type of book that should be required reading in schools and I’m glad to hear that it is in some schools already. Just like ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ (Anne Frank’s Diary), this book is a book that guides you to be a better, more thoughtful, person. It is beautiful and engaging. No doubt about it, this book left it’s mark on me. I highly recommend this book to everyone, young and old!

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Inspirational WWII-Era Story

Number the StarsNumber the Stars by Lois Lowry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second of the books that we listened to on my recent multi-generational, girls road-trip, was ‘Number the Stars’. I could not have chosen better. This story was suspenseful, educational and deeply emotional. With an age range of 5 years-old to 88 years-old in the car, this book managed to hold all of attention.

Like most readers, I’ve read plenty of books set during the WWII era. Some were graphic and shocking in their descriptions of the horrendous acts that took place. Others, like ‘Number the Stars’ go a far more subtle route, choosing to leave much to your imagination, while providing just enough information so that the reader can figure out exactly what is going on.

With two children in the car, subtle and less graphic was an obvious benefit. However, I was amazed by the depth of understanding my 9 year-old had of the story that unfolded. I was incredibly impressed by the way the author was able to craft a story that appealed to such a broad audience.

Set in a German-occupied Denmark in WWII, ‘Number the Stars’ tells the story of a teenaged Annemarie Johansen. She and her family helped rescue her best friend, Ellen Rosen, and her family. The two girls had grown up together. Like their daughters, the parents were best friends also, having been neighbors for years.

When the German occupation becomes increasingly hostile, the writing is on the wall for the Jews. The Johansen’s are ordinary people that took extraordinary risks to stand against injustice in the only way they knew how. They become active in the resistance movement, helping to smuggle targeted groups of people to safety.

I don’t want to give too much away, because this is a story that I believe should be read and experienced by everyone. I will say that it was deeply sentimental and thought-provoking. There was plenty of action and suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat, but nothing too terrifying or gory for children.

This is the first WWII book that I’ve read about the Danish resistance movement. I greatly enjoyed learning about the Danish culture and the role that Denmark played in WWII. The stories about the King of Denmark were especially inspiring.

Mostly, this story was inspirational. It is about everyday people that do incredibly courageous things when backed into a corner. It is about the strength of the human spirit. This is the kind of book that makes you reevaluate your values and what you consider important in life. Everyone needs a reminder every once in a while, especially as the holidays approach.

I loved every minute of this story. It is another one that should probably make the “mandatory reading” list for school-aged children, lest we forget the lessons of the past. The audio was fabulous as well. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

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A Cautionary Tale Fit For All Ages

The Giver (The Giver #1)The Giver by Lois Lowry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yesterday, I took a road trip with my two daughters to get pick up my 88 year-old grandmother, who will be staying with us through the holiday season. At 5 and 9 years-old, my usual audiobook choices were clearly not an option. So, I found myself listening to some books that definitely are not my usual type, yet again.

With over 4 1/2 hours in the car each way, we were able to finish 2 audiobooks from start to finish. By pure coincidence, they both ended up being authored by Lois Lowry. I have never been more engaged in a children’s book than I was during this road trip. I was completely lost in these stories, as were my children.

The first book that we listened to was ‘The Giver’. What a captivating, albeit bleak, fictional world Ms. Lowry has created! I was absolutely spellbound by her storytelling.

Set in the future, Jonas lives in a community that has traded their humanity for the illusion of safety. They block anything that would trigger the emotional highs and lows that define a person’s life as we now know it. They don’t experience the heartache of loss, but they never give in to the joys of life either. They are shells, robotic in their day to day existence and devoid of emotion.

Although this is a children’s book, it had a feeling eerily similar to George Orwell’s ‘1984’. Independent thinking was non-existent. People “confessed” their thoughts, dreams and rule violations. The presence of the omnipresent leaders in their homes, ruling their lives, was pervasive and all-powerful.

Jonas is getting ready to experience the ceremony of 12. This particular ceremony is an important one in the community, a rite of passage into adulthood. It is at this ceremony that each child is assigned their job within the community. They will remain in their assigned role until they are no longer productive and they are “released”.

Unlike the other children, Jonas is unsure of his calling within the community. He doesn’t feel a clear draw to one occupation or another. He is worried of what the future holds for him and he is beginning to notice some unusual things that others do not.

Jonas is ultimately assigned a very prestigious role within the community. It is perhaps the most important role in the community, but comes with a tremendous burden. He cannot share his experiences with anyone other than the man that he will be replacing, the current “receiver”. As his training progresses, Jonas comes to question everything that he has ever been taught.

From beginning to end, this book held my rapt attention. It was beautifully written and thought provoking. ‘The Giver’ serves as a cautionary tale to the human race, warning of what can become when we censor our very emotions and blot out all of the differences that make us unique individuals.

There was plenty of action and suspense along the way. It was also a much more emotional read than I had anticipated. I’ll never forget the look on my 9 year-old’s face when some of the true meanings of different phrases, like “released”, truly sunk in. Don’t even get me going on baby Gabe! Luckily, I think most of that went over the head of my 5 year-old.

Overall, I thought that this was a spectacular book! It is one that I would not have normally read, but I’m so glad that I did. I can only hope that the lessons learned will resonate with my daughter and the other children that read it. An all-around great story! I’ll probably download the next books in the series for our next road-trip to take “Nana” home after the holidays.

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