August 'Auggie' Pullman is a ten-year-old boy, much like many other boys of his age, except that he was born with facial disfigurements. He has undergone countless operations but he is still aware of how different he looks from everyone else, and he is acutely aware of the diverse reactions he gets from people. The novel is narrated by several different voices, each in the first person, and the one that features most is Auggie himself. The other characters who we hear from, like his sister Via, offer different perspectives on Auggie, on how they feel about him, on their relationship with him, and how he affects their lives. The chapters are, for the most part, very short, and it's very easy, and tempting given the lovely writing and the great story, to read a lot, if not all of the book in one sitting. We meet Auggie at a key stage in his life - he has been home schooled until now, partly to protect him, and his parents now want to send him out to attend middle school, a huge and incredibly daunting step for him. Is he brave enough to try it, how will he fit in, how will the other children react to him, and the other parents - so many anxieties surrounding this new part of his life.
This is a lovely read, Auggie himself is endearing, funny, believable, and most importantly he is deeply loved, supported and accepted by his parents and his sister. It could be said this novel is an illustration of the maxim that it is ultimately 'what is on the inside that counts', writ large. But maybe Auggie wouldn't be who he is without being as he is. He has had to learn to deal with peoples' reactions to him, on seeing his face, from shock or fear, to acceptance and friendship from some, or unkindness and taunting from others. He is a kind-hearted boy, who is so happy seeing those he loves enjoy success. On seeing his sister Via receive applause he decides; 'I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.
The novel offers, through Auggie, a real insight into how it must feel to be considered 'different', and how a child might deal with this. At first when the narrator was no longer Auggie I wondered how well it would work, having gotten used to seeing things from his perspective and enjoying this, but I needn't have worried, as the other characters' sections all add to Auggie's story rather than detract from it. The story isn't just about how Auggie is different though, it's about all the things he experiences that are the same as anyone else of his age, such as not being sure he wants his mum to kiss him in front of everyone anymore, making new friends, getting used to middle school, and so on.
This novel is aimed at a children's and young adult audience but it wouldn't harm anyone of any age to read it and be reminded not to judge by appearances and to be a little kinder to others, and it will reward those who do read it with a moving, at times dark, but also uplifting read.