***CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS***
August is a very special 10 year old–some even call him a medical miracle. He was born with a cleft palate and other facial abnormalities due to a combination of very rare genetic disorders. There was a one in 4 million chance that August’s genetic disorders would combine in the specific way they did and cause so many physical problems. August has already undergone many surgeries during his short life, and although his disorders do not cause mental deficiencies of any kind, he has a face that is not easy for others to look at. After ten years of enduring the “double take” from strangers in the grocery store, or just passing by on the street, August is used to how others see him. He is most comfortable on his own block, where everyone knows him and he knows what to expect.
August is lucky to have such a wonderful family–he has the most caring, selfless mom he could ever ask for, his dad never fails to make him laugh, and his big sister always stands up for him. However, he is getting older, and it is time for him to go out into the real world and attend school.
This book chronicles August’s first year at school from several different perspectives. First, we hear from August. He is about to start 5th grade when the book begins, but he seems much younger. He has been home schooled by his mom and lives a very sheltered life. His first couple of months at school are tough. Most of his classmates don’t know how to react to August’s face, and end up going out of their way to avoid him.
As the story continues, we hear from August’s sister and friends. Their narratives fill in some of the gaps in the story and explain some of their behavior that seems unintelligible from August’s perspective. This is the debut novel from R.J. Palacio, and she does an excellent job of presenting this story realistically. August has a lot of hardships to overcome in life, and the author does not sugarcoat his experience in any way. At times, I felt it was difficult to read this book because I felt so deeply for the plight of the main character and his family. August must put up with the close-minded prejudice of some of his classmates, but he overcomes adversity and learns the value of friendship in the process.
I think tweens will appreciate the book’s honest portrayal of the ups and downs of fifth grade from a unique perspective.
Recommendation: 5 out of 5 lupines