Update January, 2015: Two readers have identified the image at the bottom of this post as a doctored-fake, which saddens me. Someone decided to impose a distorted visage on one of the women in this otherwise unremarkable, anonymous  photo from the late 19th century. So, note to my kid followers: be wary of what you find on internet sources, and do your best to check/doublecheck the authenticity. I’ll leave the post as-is, but please be advised.

And you should still read Wonder.If you haven’t yet read Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, you should run, not walk, to your nearest indie bookseller or library, find it, and read it. It’s about a boy named August Pullman who is born with a rare genetic disorder that has caused severe facial abnormalities.

“I won’t describe what I look like,” Auggie tells us in the first chapter. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

According to Auggie’s sister, the nature of his problem is “a previously unknown type of mandibulofacial dysostosis, complicated by a hemifacial microsoma.”

It’s a remarkable book, hardly a bit depressing, and much more uplifting and inspiring. It’s got a lot of themes, among them, familial love, and the power of kindness.

As it happens, I’m also reading the new (nonfiction, adult) book by Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree. It’s about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, transgender–even prodigies. Solomon uses the term “horizontal identities” to describe kids who are very different from their parents, in any number of ways.

Although Solomon’s book recounts much heartache and many tragic stories, it’s also about the triumphs of love, about parents who love their children despite their children’s so-very-different identities. His thesis is that diversity is what unites us all. And Wonder is a beautiful evocation of that theme. Auggie’s family is certainly a fictionalized version of some of the families Solomon describes.

As I was doing some image research for an upcoming book, I stumbled across this picture, and I immediately thought about Auggie. Although I tried to research the picture’s origins, I don’t know anything about it. One description I can’t authenticate says the two women are sisters, and that may well be true. By the style of the dresses, I am guessing it was taken in the 1870s or thereabouts. I suspect the woman on the left has a similar condition to Auggie’s. But if you can look past her dreadful affliction, it’s really a rather sweet picture. They’re holding hands, and the woman on the right has her arm around the other. Her expression looks warm and loving–in itself remarkable for any 19th century photo, when people rarely showed much emotion. I highly recommend reading Wonder, and, if you’re up for a very long grownup book, Far From the Tree as well. You’ll never look at the world the same way again.

27 Comments

Great post. I have read — and loved — Wonder. I am going to get Far From the Tree. Thanks for sharing information about both of them.

Sarah says:

So glad you found the post helpful, Pat!

Wendy Wax says:

I just started Wonder last night! Can’t wait to read more.

Sarah says:

Thanks for stopping by Wendy–it’s hard to read a book that’s been so hyped, I know, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Wonder sounds excellent and I’ve been meaning to pick up Far From the Tree after hearing about it on NPR. Thank you for the reminder and recommendation!

Sarah says:

So glad the recommendations were helpful Heather!

Cathy Mealey says:

I loved WONDER – gave several copies over the holidays to people who love or have special children. Also heard the NPR interview with Andrew Solomon – what an interesting term “horizontal identities”! On my TBR list.

Sarah says:

Yes my son gave Wonder as a gift to several of his teachers last year.

CS Perryess says:

“You’ll never look at the world the same way again.”
Great line, & isn’t that what all authors are trying to do? I teach middle school & one of the best moments in my 32 year career was when one of my 8th graders blasted into my room before school started, clutching a book to her chest, saying, “This book changed the way I see the world!” It doesn’t get any better than that. The book was Carol Plum-Ucci’s What Happened to Lani Garver. Palacio’s Wonder has been on my list for a while. Thanks for suggesting I move it up on the heap.

Sarah says:

Ohh, and thanks for THAT book recommendation. I will read it for sure!

Lori Norman says:

Sarah, thank you for reviewing both of these books. I missed the interview on NPR, so I’m glad to see what you’ve written here. I will definitely read these books and the one C S Perryess mentioned above.

Beth says:

Both books are on my list; Wonder because everyone has recommended it and Far From the Tree because my cousin helped edit it. She also recced it.

Mary says:

Wonder is amazing, isn’t it? Thanks for this terrific review – need to move Far from the Tree up my TBR list now!

Katrina says:

I’ve been thinking about reading Wonder for quite awhile, but was hesitant because I was afraid it was going to be sad (not that I don’t read sad books, but I just hadn’t been up for that kind of read recently). Having read your post (and all of the other comments), I’m looking forward to reading it–it sounds like an amazing book!

Sarah says:

I know just what you mean, Katrina. It did make me cry, but in an “oh this is such a beautiful book” kind of way.

MotherReader says:

Glad you found the ‘wonder’ that is “Wonder.” What a great book! I hope it wins the Newbery this year.

I loved WONDER. Just amazing. And that photo you posted is so interesting. Is there any way to find our more about the women? Or have you exhausted all of the options?

Sarah says:

I found the photo on pinterest, and contacted the person who posted it for more information, but she didn’t respond. I felt OK posting it, as it’s an old photo and therefore in the public domain, but no, I haven’t found out anything further. I’d love to, sometime.

I don’t want to be mean but the photo is photo shopped and you can tell by looking at the face,somebody drew the face but if it were real it would be cutein fact it would be adorable.I am eleven years old and I’m reading Wonder with my teacher and it’s REALLY GOOD!!!!!! If it were a movie,I would buy A MILLION COPIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!LEGIT ONE MILLION COPIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Bye!

Sarah says:

Hi Ousna–thanks for commenting. You may be right. It is very hard to tell with photos nowadays. I suppose if we showed it to an expert he/she could probably determine. I still think it is real, but I don’t know for sure. But I’m glad you are reading with a skeptical eye. I am also glad you loved Wonder. I loved it, too.

Oh no!!!!!! All the pics that I put on my message went off the screenoops! Sorry!

Susan says:

The woman with the horrible face has been Photo Shopped by some jerk with a bad sense of humor. Here is he original photo: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/389209592771400337/

Sarah Albee says:

Thanks, Susan. A couple of other readers pointed this out as well. I think I will delete the post. People really can be awful.

Lacey says:

Very helpful!! Thanks

MrsCC says:

I heard about Wonder from one of the teachers I worked with. I’m not even half way through but I’m so glad I heard her talking about it. I have 😂 And 😭 so much already!

Leave a Reply