August Pullman has a good deal to teach us about being different, about being kind, about being loved and being accepting. And he’s coming to Tacoma.
August – Auggie to his friends – is the boy at the heart of Tacoma Reads Together’s 2013 selection, R. J. Palacio’s “Wonder.”
Auggie is 10 when the young adult novel opens. He’s been home-schooled all his life and is about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Academy in New York. He is, he tells us, an ordinary boy in all the ordinary ways – save one. He was born with a genetic condition that deformed his face.
“I know ordinary kids don’t make other kids run away screaming in playgrounds,” he tells us. “I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at everywhere they go.”
“Wonder” is the story of the school year during which his classmates figure out how to see him as a precious – and ordinary – friend.
“I think it’s a great fit for this community,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland after she announced the choice. “We have people who volunteer for us and don’t give up on us, and we have a lot of kind and compassionate people in this city. Some of us who are blessed often take what we have for granted. ‘Wonder’ gives you a sense of gratitude but also reminds you that a very simple act of kindness can go a long way.”
Book lover Erik Hanberg, Tacoma Public Library Director Susan Odencrantz and library public information officer David Domkoski suggested “Wonder” to Strickland, who fell for it on her fast first read.
“This is a young adult book, which is good,” she said. “We want to try to engage young people in Tacoma Reads.”
In a city as ethnically and economically diverse as Tacoma, the storyline about differences, and about the power of being kinder than you have to be, should resonate with students, especially those going through the tough middle school years.
Not that they are the only people facing those issues.
“We all want to be loved,” Strickland said. “We want to fit in, and we want to be respected.”
Auggie’s story shows us both sides of that struggle. It’s told not only from his perspective but also from his friends’.
When Auggie tells it, he notices “the look” of people shocked on their first sight of him. He winces at the quick lowering of the eyes followed by “the shiny smile.”
When his friends tell it, they’re trying to figure out how to respond to a person who seems so unlike anyone they have met before.
The story covers a long school year, and Strickland is betting that when it is over, she won’t be the only Tacoman who cried.
In its 11th year, Tacoma Reads has brought the community together to discuss books including Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Julia Alvarez’ “How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent” and Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.”
Author R.J. Palacio will appear at a free book talk and signing at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at the Main Library, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S. The library will announce more events as scheduled.