By R. J. Palacio
From the back cover
My name is August.
I won’t describe what I look like.
Whatever you’re thinking,
it’s probably worse.
August Pullman was born with a disease that caused facial deformity. But otherwise, he is a regular fifth grader. He had been homeschooled his entire life due to the many surgeries he had undergone as a result of his illness. In this book, we go on an incredible, heart moving journey of August’s first year of school. Middle school is especially difficult for kids to adjust into, but for August, it is even more challenging.
This is a wonderful book in the sense that it teaches empathy and delivers messages of strength and perseverance as we watch August grow and help everyone around him grow in one way or another. The Pullman family is full of love, happiness, and acceptance of predestination, which leaves readers in awe.
Parents need to note that there are mild mentions of crushes between male and female students in the fifth grade, as well as a kiss between August’s teenage sister and her boyfriend.
In a gist…
- August’s teenage sister, Via, states that she had an “instant’ crush on a boy she met at school in the chapter titled “Out with the Old”.
- In the chapters narrated by Summer, there are some mentions of boy-girl attractions and dating. A boy sends a friend to see if Summer is interested in him so he can ask her out. Summer describes herself as “flat”.
- A main character urges a boy to ask a girl out on a date because she likes him. He doesn’t end up asking her out though.
- Via and her boyfriend kiss once.
- August undergoes major bullying at school. From name calling like “freak” and “orc” to someone stating that he should kill himself because of his face. The kids at the school also avoid touching him or anything that he had touched afraid of catching his disease. August also faces some bullies that shove him and rip his sweater apart.
- The Pullman’s family dog dies.
Some name calling like “freak” and “orc”.
Miranda, Via’s friend, states that she smoked during summer camp of grade 9 and used to escape at night to meet with boys.
Degradation of Family/Islamic Values
- A boy refers to August’s teenage sister as “hot” and also refers to one of their classmates as “hot” as well and that he has a crush on her.
- Statement: “The universe was not kind to Auggie Pullman”. Allah is fair, and his love is all encompassing. Children should be constantly reminded that we are all tested in different ways and this world is nothing but a big test for all of us.
- Ideology of incarnation in the following statement by Summer in the chapter “Warning: This Kid is Rated R”:”I think when people die, their souls go to heaven but just for a little while. Like that’s where they see their old friends and stuff, and kind of catch up on old times. But then I actually think the souls start thinking about their lives on earth, like if they were good or bad or whatever. And then they get born again as brand-new babies in the world.” To which August answers “I really like that, Summer. That means in my next life I won’t be stuck with this face”.
- Some mention of ancient Egyptian gods when the kids work on a school project.
- In one of the chapters narrated by Via, she remembers her late grandmother and questions herself: Will I really ever see her again or is that a fairy tale?
- The author makes a number of references to the “face of God” being shown in the kindness of people. Towards the end of the chapter, the school principal also makes the reference to the face of God shown in humans and then he pauses and says “or whatever politically correct spiritual representation of universal goodness you happen to believe in.”
This book is full of positive messages. It gives the reader a glimpse into the struggles of people living with a certain disease or disability. The reader gets to experience a year in the life of Auggie with its struggles, endless bullying, but most importantly, empathetic helpers along the way. Seeing life through Auggie’s perspective will surely harbour empathy, compassion, and surely, some humility. One of the book’s main mottos is “When given the choice between being right, or being kind, choose kind”.
Aside from empathy and kindness, this book also portrays the following:
- Summer calls her mom to pick her up from a “popular” group’s party, due to her feeling uncomfortable with the atmosphere of girls and boys partying together in a basement where a girl tells her that a boy is interested in her and wants to ask her out.
- Summer states that her mother believes they are too young to date and says that she agrees.
- Justin, Via’s boyfriend gets a glimpse of August’s struggles in life and tries to make sense of life:
“My head swirls on this, but then softer thoughts soothe, like a flattened third on a major chord. no, no, it’s not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn’t. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can’t see. like with parents who adore you blindly. and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you. and a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you. and even a pink-haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet. maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.”
The positive messages in this book are extremely valuable. Especially in today’s world of selfishness and vanity. The book emphasizes on the importance of love, acceptance, kindness, and finding happiness no matter what is thrown at you in this life. The concepts of life/death, predestination, and boy-girl interactions in Islam should be solidified in children’s minds before reading this book in order to protect them from unnecessary doubts.