Author R.J. Palacio | Interview
Thu Apr 12 2012
Throughout the book, Auggie’s classmate, Julian, appears to be the only character going out of his way to make Auggie miserable. The others in the book hurt him unintentionally. While writing, were you consciously making an effort to not make Auggie too much of a victim?
Yes, I was. I know it’s a terribly fraught time for kids, middle school. The expectation we have as a society is that children are going to be mean to each other at that age, which is a shame. That hasn’t been my experience. I’m not saying they’re not mean to each other, but I think the meanness, a lot of it, comes out of thoughtlessness and of not understanding the impact of their words and actions on the people around them. In writing the book, what I wanted really to do is not make children out to be bad guys, because I don’t think they are. Given a chance, most children will do the right thing. I was hoping to make them aware that sometimes all it takes is a nice word to really make someone else’s day. Consequently, a thoughtless remark can really hurt someone’s feelings.
Would you say that Julian bullies Auggie in the book?
I don’t know if bullying is quite the right word. But I think he definitely tries to make Auggie feel badly about being different and looking different. What his motivation could be [for bothering Auggie], I don’t know. I think there are certain children [who bully], but I think they’re outnumbered.
It seems that Wonder really resonates with both children and adults.
I really wasn’t expecting the outpouring of affection this book has generated. I’m getting emails every day from people. The vast majority are from adults who tell me how much they were moved by this book, how it made them want to be kinder people. Certainly the emails I get about being reduced to tears at various times or about reading it with their hearts in their throat, those are all from adults.The kids come to it from a different perspective. They’re enjoying the book. They really like it. They’re taking the lessons learned. They identify with the characters, but they’re not reduced to tears like the adults are.
How have your sons responded to Wonder?
They love it, I have to say. My older son read it about a year ago, and he really, really like it. He’s 15 years old now so he can look back on all this time. He said he thought it should be required reading for everyone entering middle school. Which is a really great quote!
I read it to my younger son, who’s eight years old, just a month ago. We read it [together]. It took us about a week-and-a-half to read it. I have to say, reading it and seeing it through his eyes was really amazing for me. It was one of the highlights for this whole journey as an author. He responded to all the things that I forgot. It’s been several years now since I wrote the book. It became very fresh when I saw his response.
Author R.J. Palacio will be at Anderson's Bookshop (123 W Jefferson, Naperville) April 14 at 2pm. Copies of Wonder will be available for $16. Visit andersonsbookshop.com for more information.