It's interesting that I had just finished reading Brian Selznick's 2011 novel "Wonderstruck" before picking up this book. Both had film adaptations released in the fall of 2017, so I decided to read the source material that inspired their visual counterpoint prior to release. But the coincidences don't stop there. Both were published within a year of each other, consisting of the word "wonder" in their title, featuring multiple viewpoints of characters overcoming society with their exceptional abilities, and contain reference to David Bowie's "Space Oddity".
The difference is how well one story was executed and how poorly the other was. "Wonderstruck" limited the narrative to two characters and was consistent with switching back and forth between the two timelines, the research into appropriately representing the characters deafness and Deaf culture was evident, and pop culture references were very minimal— tying Bowie's song to the heart of the story.
"Wonder", on the other hand, had the opposite feel when tackling these points. The narrative juggled between six characters and switched around in a very jarring way. As soon as the reader would get used to one viewpoint, it would change to someone else.
In particular, (START SPOILER) Justin, whose passage is written without any formal grammar or punctuation, was explained by the author as a "running monologue inside his head has no time for capital letters or punctuation: it’s like his thoughts are streaming inside his mind" because he is a musician and that the "notes on a musical staff looked a little like lowercase letters of the alphabet". I too studied music in my education, however I did not and do not share the same thought process as the author did. The fact that I had to search for R.J. Palacio's FAQ for an explanation as to why Justin's part was written the way it was does not make for good reflection on Palacio's writing, or at least writing for this book.
Though while the book went along with multiple point of views, I came to expect there would be a section told by Julian, who comes the closest to being the main antagonist. His story would have added an interesting, colorful dynamic, delving into why he treated our main character, August "Auggie" Pullman the way that he did. Palacio explained in the same FAQ page that Julian's story did not affect Auggie's and therefore did not add or progress the plot at all. His involvement in the conclusion is very open-ended and unresolved, and the precept he sent to Mr. Browne, "Sometimes it's good to start over", while the most intriguing of all the precepts the students sent in, was left unexplained.
It particularly upset me that Palacio's short story, "The Julian Chapter" is EXACTLY what I had wanted in "Wonder"! It answered all of my questions that I had revolving around Julian's involvement in the novel, and it was well-written and emotionally moving! More thoughts on this will be covered in review specifically for this short story, but to say that Julian didn't "undergo a change" and "could never enhance Auggie’s storyline the way [...] a relatively minor character like Justin’s does" is completely disagreeable.
Conversations between Auggie and his friend, Jack via e-mail or text message felt out of place, as it was the only section that used this format. In the short story mentioned above had a better use of it, as the letters and e-mail messages flowed with the character's actions advanced the plot. Here in "Wonder", did not contribute much to continuing the story. (END SPOILER)
The book could not go on more than a page without being hit by two to five pop culture references. Its title is borrowed from Natalie Merchant's 1995 single, "Wonder", completely understandable how a writer could be inspired by another form of art, but the other quotes feel thrown in there as a cheap attempt to be motivational and weakly connected to the story, and inconsistently change from being a song lyric to book quote to film line. This arrhythmic format influenced the overall book's complicated structure, making it difficult what to expect from the text.
Auggie's condition is not fully and clearly explained. In a 2012 interview with UK's "The Telegraph", it is reported that,
"She did not consult doctors regarding Auggie's medical condition, instead researching syndromes on the internet and watching documentaries, but anyway, she says, 'I didn't want to make it specifically any syndrome – I think it's almost unimportant.'"
I disagree, as specifying could really help give more awareness to a particular demographic. In the end, I learned nothing about Treacher Collins syndrome from this book, or how it reflects on individuals living with this condition. But even putting specifics aside, I still did not believe that Auggie or the people around him learn how to overcome bullying and embrace tolerance.
The plot is overall not quite original either, as it is similar on the surface to the 1985 biographical drama film, "Mask" about Roy L. Dennis (portrayed by Eric Stoltz) and his condition with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia. Moreover, it feels very insensitive to those with Treacher Collins syndrome, or any kind of atypical condition. Its positive message is very shallow. As good intentions may go— Palacio used this story as a vehicle to promote something positive, but the underlying impression is that a perfectly-abled person believes that they're a godsend for those with "disabilities" by writing this book, but in reality has not served true support for these community groups.