World of wonders
The other day on St. Peterâ€™s Square, Pope Francis embraced a man suffering from a disfiguring disease called neurofibromatosis, which causes tumors to grow all over the skin. The popeâ€™s action had a stunning, parable-like clarity, evoking Gospel stories of Jesus reaching out to the sick and marginalized.
A similar clarity marks R. J. Palacioâ€™s best-selling childrenâ€™s novel Wonder, which is about a perceptive fifth-grader named Auggie who has a rare cranio-facial deformity. â€śI won't describe what I look like,â€ť he tells the reader. â€śWhatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.â€ť
Palacio told NPR that the idea for her novel emerged after she reflected on her own discomfort in encountering a severely deformed child at an ice cream shop. She had quickly gathered up her children and fled. Ashamed of herself and the bad example she set for her children, Palacio decided to explore what it might be like to be a middle-schooler with a face that makes people gaspâ€”and how Auggieâ€™s classmates might, eventually, learn to be get beyond appearances.
â€śHeaven,â€ť says Auggie, â€śis where no one notices your ugly face.â€ť