Palacio. Knopf, 2012. (Library copy). This gem of a book is reviewed all over the place. It's a huge hit and everyone is talking about it. I read it for the Middle Grade Cybils panel, and I am so glad to have read it! It's a really wonderful book that stays with you. The more I think about it the more I get out of it. I can see this one being on everyone's list for a long time.
August Pullman is an ordinary fifth grader who feels the same as everyone else on the inside; he loves Star Wars, he argues with his sister, he loves his dog, he misses his best friend who moved away. The thing is, he was born with a facial deformity that has required over twenty surgeries. Unfortunately he still has the kind of face that startles and frightens people. He has been homeschooled up to now, but his parents have decided it is better for him to join the mainstream school and learn to make his way in the world. The rest of the story is how he struggles with friendships and the social hierarchy of middle school and how the other children react to him. What is really precious about this book is the courage, honesty and humor with which he faces all these challenges. I really love how much the value of kindness is emphasised. In the beginning only one girl befriends him by sitting at his lunch table. By the end of the book he has won over the entire school purely by the force of his personality.
August comes from a family with a Brazilian-American mom and a Jewish-Argentinian-American dad. His friend Summer is biracial. There are some classmates with Chinese and Latina names, although most of the kids sound pretty white. With no spotlights shining on race we can still see a world that is a mix of cultures. Auggies' sister Via has very important memories of her Brazilian grandmother loving her and telling her how special she is in Portuguese. I am always happy to see this kind of natural diversity plopped right in the middle of a book that is a really good story.
The other thing I really love about this book is how wise and gentle and supportive his dad is. This is a loving family that pulls together to face an enormous challenge by sheer love and determination. Auggie's dad is the one pushing for him to go to public school in the beginning, while his mom is more overprotective. When August struggles with fear and anxiety, his dad is there to listen and support him. In a lot of middle grade novels the parents are out of the picture so the protagonist can face his/her challenges as the hero or heroine in the spotlight. This book does a good job of showing how important parents are and how they can stand back and be supportive without overshadowing the young person on center stage.
It's a real treat to see a great father figure portrayed as really important in his son's life. I am noticing several middle grade books this year with great father characters. I wonder if you've seen any as well? I am going to start a list of Fabulous Fathers of Middle Grade Books. Who would you suggest?
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. Go take a look at some other Marvelous books!