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.