R J Palacio, Auggie & Me: three Wonder stories, Corgi Children’s/Random House Australia, 1 September 2015, 400pp., $19.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9780552574778
Between May 2014 and May 2015, R J Palacio published three stories online set in Auggie’s world. Although they don’t feature Auggie, each one deals with a person who has had interactions with the main character of Wonder. Initially, they were only available as a digital download, but now the publisher has put them together in a compilation print copy.
It appears that Palacio has been bombarded with requests for a sequel to Wonder (oh the demands of a series-hungry readership!), and she writes in the introduction to Auggie & Me that she doesn’t plan to ever write one. She offers instead these companion pieces, which are exactly as you might imagine them.
The first story called The Julian Chapter, takes place from the time Auggie joins the 5th grade class through to the summer break. Julian, having shown leadership qualities, is asked to be a welcome helper for Auggie. And we all know what happens then. Julian’s perspective does give readers more information. It allows us to examine his behaviour in an entirely new light, and while some might find it difficult to forgive him, most readers should be able to accept his redemption. I have always wondered how students interpret adults or parents in fiction, particularly when it’s clear they are not good role models. Julian’s parents are selfish and careless, so it’s not surprising Julian behaves the way he does. Palacio doesn’t fall into the trap of merely repeating or rehashing what happens in Wonder. She gives us Julian away from school, away from the drama and tension of Auggie. Being in Julian’s head is both confronting and illuminating.
The second story, Pluto, focuses on Chris. As someone who read Wonder over three years ago, I must confess that I couldn’t really remember Chris’ role in the book. But I am not sure it’s necessary anyway. Chris’ story is strong enough to stand on its own merits. He is having an especially bad day, and by the end of it, he has done some serious self-reflecting, and as a result, is re-assessing his priorities and friendships. Interspersed with the horror day from hell are flashback chapters to Chris’ connection to Auggie and how these formative years have laid the foundation for the kid Chris is today. I cheered him on at the end, when he makes a decisive choice about his future friends. It’s inspiring stuff.
Finally, we hear from Charlotte. Her story is told in almost dispassionate tones, just as Charlotte seems to be. She is firm on her life goals and isn’t a person to sell herself short. What comes across as ‘goody-two shoes’ behaviour to other kids, to Charlotte it’s focus and maturity. Her friendship with best friend, Ellie, appears at a crossroads, and it’s her selection into a dance for only three people, including Summer and Ximena that forces her to deal with some hard truths about herself. This is a great story about wanting to join the popular group and showing that not everything always turns out how we expect. The discussion about Auggie here, intersects with Julian’s story, and it’s lovely to be reminded about Summer’s easy loyalty and kindness. There’s a particularly interesting incident involving Maya that, while keeping with the theme of friendship, also expands our understanding of all the characters. Mr Tushman’s brief appearance is a very fitting end to the story.
If Wonder is a popular choice in your library, then Auggie & Me is the perfect companion piece. It’s suitable for both primary and secondary collections. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Trisha Buckley