by R. J. Palacio, published 2012
“I’m kind of used to how I look by now. I know how to pretend I don’t see the faces people make. We’ve all gotten pretty good at that sort of thing: me, Mom and Dad, Via. Actually, I take that back: Via’s not so good at it.”
Let’s get right to the heart of the matter: this is a stunning, daring, heart-opening children’s book. I had no idea how I would be able to bear reading about a child whose face is disfigured from birth. But there’s nothing in this children’s book except honesty. No over-the-top sympathy. No idiot compassion. Just honest, raw experiences, told from different points of view: August, the main character; his sister, who has had to adapt her life to his presence; and several friends.
Of all the things that stayed with me in this book, it was being brought into the minds and hearts of each character. The result was that I felt intimate with each one, and they each felt very real and alive to me. I kept forgetting this was fiction. The scenes among peers and at school were very clearly drawn, so we walked in the school halls, and sat through school plays viscerally. I had some disagreement with the age portrayed in the book. August and his friends are supposedly in fifth grade, but their thoughts and words felt older than that to me. Nevertheless, the writing and actions are compelling.
Most important, the messages of tolerance, friendship, and sincere compassion are so important, perhaps now more than ever. I feel this children’s book is a must-read for today’s young people. I would recommend it for 11 and up, all the way through 14. It’s such an important theme to face. (I am including the book cover from the hardback edition below, as that is how I think of the book, from the Library edition.)