Moments and Seeing and Wonder {Book Club}

After reading the first two sections of  Wonder by R. J. Palacio (free PDF version), can understand why every person I know who has read it says, “You must stop whatever you are doing and read this book right now.” 

I am stopping myself from reading more of the book before I write this post and it was a little tricky to look for background information without spoiling the plot. So, I will admit I haven’t done my usual exploring of material on a book.

My first impression was “Wow, Palacio has created a strong and clear voice for August. It sounds like a 10-year-old boy!” When I got to part 2, I had not expected the voice to change (see, I really didn’t do any research!) so was surprised we heard from Via’s point of view. I am a sucker for an author who tells a story from multiple vantage points and creates compelling voices to go with the various points of view.

As I read this I wondered what compelled Palacio to write Wonder and I found this interview. (I only read the answer to the first question because it looked like there might be spoilers in the other questions).

“About five years ago I took my sons for ice cream, and while my older son went inside to buy us our milk shakes, my younger son and I waited on the bench outside. My younger son was only about 3 years old at the time, and he was in his stroller facing me while I sat on the bench. At a certain point I realized that sitting right next to me was a little girl with a severe craniofacial difference, her friend (or sister), and her mother. When my younger son looked up and saw her, he reacted exactly the way you might think a three-year old would react when seeing something that scared him: he started to cry—pretty loudly, too. I hurriedly tried to push him away in the stroller, not for his sake but to avoid hurting the girl’s feelings, and in my haste I caused my older son to spill the shakes, and, well, it was quite a scene—the opposite of what I had hoped for. But as I pushed my younger son’s stroller away I heard the little girl’s mom say, in as sweet and calm a voice as you can imagine: “Okay, guys, I think it’s time to go.” And that just got to me.

For the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about how that scene had played out. It occurred to me that they probably went through something like that dozens of times a day. Hundreds of times. What would that be like? What could I be teaching my children so they could understand how to respond better next time? Is “don’t stare” even the right thing to teach, or is there something deeper? All this stuff was flying through my head, and I realized that I was disappointed in myself because I had missed a good teaching moment for my kids. What I should have done, instead of trying to get my kids away and avoid the situation, was engage the girl and her mother in conversation. If my son cried, so be it: kids cry. But I should have set a better example for him, and shown him there was nothing to fear. Instead I panicked. I simply didn’t have the wherewithal to know what to do in that situation.

Coincidentally, the song Wonder by Natalie Merchant came on the radio that night, as I was thinking about the ice cream incident, and something about the words to the song just got to me. I started writing Wonder that very night.

I like hearing what inspired a book, don’t you?

So much in this book relates to life overseas.

Feeling different.

Needing to take risks and learn a new system.

Trying to figure out who is really your friend and who might have an angle . . . and then when you realize a friendship might not have been what you thought it was, deal with the hurt, disappointment, and anger.

“The only reason I’m not normal is because no one sees me that way.” August

“I held on to the secret and it covered me like a blanket.” Via

Parents trying to provide and protect their children, while dealing with their own experience of parenting a child they had not expected to be parenting.

The repeated phrase of “moments”—how it only took a moment for a look to cross a person’s face and how a moment can influence how we see something. I know I’ve had moments when I have received or made a look.

As Via expressed, when a family member—for understandable reasons—is a bit like the sun in the family, with much of life revolving around their needs how does that impact everyone in the family? How do you attend to the needs of all? How does this apply to team and organizational life?

How do you help your children (and yourself) interact honorably with those who look different?

Many rich themes in this one! I’m working on special interviews for our next two weeks.

See you in the comments!


P.S. Reading plan

August 30—Parts 1 and 2

Sept 6— Parts 3-5

Sept 13—Parts 6-8.


  1. Debbie August 29, 2016

    I just devoured this book over the weekend. I hadn’t thought about the parallels to life overseas, but yes, standing out,transition, building meaningful relationships, there are lots! I’ll look forward to further reflections here.

    1. Michele Womble August 30, 2016

      I didn’t think about the parallels to life overseas, either, Debbie, until Amy pointed them out, but I agree that there are a lot of them. Did you read the whole book already? 🙂

      1. Amy Young August 31, 2016

        Amy pointed them out because Julie B pointed them out to her :). She’s not as clever as she appears and SHOULD have given credit to the real source of it. 🙂

        1. Julie B September 5, 2016

          Oh I think Amy is very clever! And Julie B only pointed out a couple…..Amy came up with many more similarities to this wonderful life we live overseas!

  2. Kimberly Todd August 29, 2016

    We listened to the audiobook on our family vacation last week, and it was so amazing that we’re nearly through listening to it a second time. For hearing the different voices, the audiobook intensifies that and it’s just delightful. Jack’s story was our favorite. Yesterday we watched the first episode of Star Wars for the first time with our little people, and they want to be just like August with his addiction. =) The book has inspired such cool conversations, and reading what inspired Palacio to write the book is really moving. Thanks for digging that up, Amy!

    1. Michele Womble August 30, 2016

      Cool that you read it with your kids! I’m planning to send it to my kids, too.

    2. Amy Young August 31, 2016

      Oh my, in the best sense, I can just picture the conversations going on in the Todd house/car/walks. Love it! Oh for the joy of introducing Star Wars to children!!

  3. Katherine Johnson August 30, 2016

    Not going to lie, when I read Via’s chapter I was close to weeping. That comment about August being the sun, and all having to revolve around him…as a parent to a special needs child who will both look different and require her fair share of medical attention – who has an older sister, this chapter wrecked me. Oh the challenges of parenting that lie ahead of us! But also the lessons that both my girls will have opportunities to learn at a young age…

    Needless to say, I devoured this book in a very short time. 🙂

    1. Michele Womble August 30, 2016

      Oh, Katherine.

      Stopped and prayed for you when I read your comment. …how old are your girls?

      I feel honored to be reading this book together with you. I hope you’ll be able to come back and comment on the next posts even if you’ve already finished the book.

    2. Amy Young August 31, 2016

      Katherine, I thought of you as I read that section. As I watched Auggie and Via’s parents, it was obvious how much they loved their kids. It’s obvious how much you and jeff love yours too. It was also clear that, as with any family, there will be give and take. There will be doubts. There will be disagreements. There will be regrets. But I come back to love. There is also great love. I’m thankful for what this book is making me confront in my own heart. HUGS!

  4. Michele Womble August 30, 2016

    Wow. I see why everyone was saying you had to read this book now, Amy. So even though I’m behind on the last book club book, City of Tranquil Lights, (which is a very good book – I’m just behind because I had a lot going on the last few weeks, but it’s not a book I would abandon), I’m reading this one NOW, too.

    I didn’t expect the voice change, either, but I really like it. “compelling voices” – yes, so true! I was sucked in and had a hard time putting it down (to go back to City of Tranquil Lights).

    I didn’t think about how it relates to life overseas at first, but I definitely see the parallels now that you mentioned it, Amy, and I loved your thoughts about the moments –

    I’m going to TRY to not run on ahead – it helps that I want to finish the other one.

    1. Amy Young August 31, 2016

      Michele, now it is my turn to say, “I”ve been thinking about you and nearly emailed!” I figured you had a lot going on with your kids starting school. I love hearing what you’re thinking of — bouncing back between City and Wonder . . . delightful. Both are so well written!!! Though so different 🙂

  5. Spring August 31, 2016

    I loved this so much I am planning on having both my 12 and 10 year old read it. My good friend has children with special needs. We have discussed what the best “response”is, and not come to a valid conclusion. I usually tell my children not to stare. I say if you have a question, ask. Also a smile goes a long way. Since we work in the Deaf community I also think about what my husband say. Deaf are used to being Deaf. This applies here too. I am sure August is used to how he looks and peoples rea tions. It is my challenge to be different. I want to treat each person as special no matter what the outward looks like.

    1. Michele Womble August 31, 2016

      I want my kids to read it, too. They’re a bit older, but I’m wondering about the conversations we would have. I downloaded the pdf – but I think I’m going to go back and buy it on kindle.

    2. Amy Young August 31, 2016

      “It is my challenge to be different.” Yes. That’s a good reminder! It is hard to know what is the “right” response. Maybe it varies and (I’m talking to myself so don’t mean to seem I’ve gone all “spiritually holier-than-though) and I have to trust that the Holy Spirit really will guide me. AND when I get that sense in my stomach I mishandled something . . . to trust that I DID mishandle it and see if I can rectify or learn from it. These are good to think and talk about.

  6. Kiera August 31, 2016

    I read the book in a day. I am not as disciplined as Amy to stop reading with the section we’re discussing. Like you, Amy, I didn’t know it would change voices, so I was surprised at that. The incident the author related is interesting because the same thing happens in the book later on (I don’t think that’s a spoiler). One thing it brought to mind, when he talked about Halloween and the beauty of not being seen was that I can relate. Living in China, I stick out. I can’t blend in even if I want to. Although people aren’t horrified at my existence of course. But it helped me identify a little with August. Also, I love the complexity of Via’s feelings – wanting to protect August and yet noting how hard it is on her too.

    1. Michele Womble August 31, 2016

      I mentioned over on the other post, Kiera, that it looks like you and I are both reading Wonder and City of Tranquil Lights parallel – but I guess you already finished Wonder. So not quite as parallel.

    2. Spring August 31, 2016

      In Belize then Mexico it was the same for us. I was so tired of sticking out. Then we got back to the US, I felt out of place, yet no one knew. I wanted them to know

      1. Amy Young August 31, 2016

        Spring. This, this is a balm. It’s poetry for the soul. Thank you.

    3. Amy Young August 31, 2016

      I’m really not that disciplined! I’m “scared :)” — that if I read ahead, I’ll get myself confused on what I need to write about and then I will confuse others . . . so it’s better to stop, get my writing done 🙂 . . . and then keep reading. When I lived in Southern China and had most of my friends who were the size of my thigh, I had to be comfortable with sticking out. Well, maybe not comfortable, but I had to accept it. There was NO way I was going to blend in. I remember standing in a very crowded train station and I could see over the entire crowd. The entire huge crowded room. And i’m not that tall. Oh and the way Via expressed her feelings, so hauntingly beautiful and life giving, eh?

  7. Michele Womble August 31, 2016

    I was impressed with Via for reading War and Peace! Like Via said, it actually is NOT a hard book to read , it’s just very long.

  8. Karen August 31, 2016

    Okay, so when you first mentioned this book on the book club, I immediately clicked on it and read it straight through in the middle of the night. I have really appreciated this book and recommended it to quite a few of my older preteen and teen friends here, many of whom are struggling with cross-cultural identity issues. They have loved it, and devoured the book. Thanks. It’s a really good book for conversation starters (i.e. “whose voice do you identify with the most?”).
    I love Via’s voice, and the insight with which the author put this together. One of my nieces is an older sister with two autistic brothers, and so many aspects of Via’s voice remind me of her. I see the comparison to myself … I also am an older sister, but my brother doesn’t have special needs, and for the most part I grew up figuring it was my natural birthright to demonstrate my superiority and be rather rude to him, even if I knew deep down that I loved him and was proud of him. However, Via has grown up expecting and accepting that she needs to defend her brother, and that affects her at every step, including in her choices of friends.

  9. Vivienne September 1, 2016

    Hi Amy and all,

    I’m still on part 1 due to lack of time for reading but enjoying the book. I too had not thought about the similarities to standing out as different when living in a place where you look different. A lot comes down to our natural human tendency to judge and make assumptions on appearances before getting to know someone. For August, his physical appearance is a perceived barrier for people in getting to know him. He said “The only reason I’m not normal is because no one sees me that way.”

    Spring, I can relate to what you said about being tired of sticking out and then feeling different inside when you are in your home country but people not knowing, because you don’t look different.

    Anyway, I will read on and try to join in the conversation later.

  10. Ruth September 1, 2016

    See, when you let us in on all the summer books, I immediately got this one and started (and finished) reading it because I haven no self control. Also I for some reason, although I have read several of the Book Club books I can’t seem to read them at the right time. For example, after all the talk about City of Tranquil Lights, now I am thinking I should really buy it!

    Anyway, I loved this book. It tackles an important issue but is so real about it, not sanctimonious or all black and white. I love how it shows the different perspectives. That really shows the truth of the complexity of the situation. I also discovered there are several mini-books from the perspective of Charlotte, Julian, and his childhood friend (I can’t remember his name). Those also added to the fullness of perspectives. I found them on our digital library! These books are popular so I bet they can be found in a lot of libraries.

    My sister has disabilities and, as an adult, has been in a wheelchair for the past few years. She said she gets a lot of those “looks” and a surprising number of really inappropriate comments. She said she appreciates it when kids ask questions because she knows they are just curious and young kids haven’t learned to feel awkward yet in the face of disability. I just bought this book for her and she loves it.

  11. Regina September 3, 2016

    This is my first time reading a book as a part of this book club and I am having a hard time not reading this book at all once. WHAT A GREAT CHOICE. As a mama of two on the overseas field so much of these first two parts hit my heart. Our foster daughter has special needs, some more visible than others and having to balance those needs with the needs of a newborn then infant and toddler, ensuring that both get the nurturing the need has been challenging.
    I am LOVING this book, I too am a sucker for a story told from different perspectives!

  12. Phyllis September 3, 2016

    Thank you for finding this book and choosing it for book club! I loved it. I also couldn’t stop reading it. I’m definitely going to read it to my children. We serve at an orphanage for kids with special needs, and our kids love their friends there so much. That made the whole story very real and alive for me.

    Also, I love when I can see kids with special needs in families. Their lives are so different from the orphanages here, and it’s just beautiful. Reading this book was like a visit to a real family. Refreshing. Encouraging. Challenging.

    Thank you, again!

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