Wonder, p.8R. J. Palacio
He can hear, too. Most kids born with these types of birth defects have problems with their middle ears that prevent them from hearing, but so far August can hear well enough through his tiny cauliflower-shaped ears. The doctors think that eventually he’ll need to wear hearing aids, though. August hates the thought of this. He thinks the hearing aids will get noticed too much. I don’t tell him that the hearing aids would be the least of his problems, of course, because I’m sure he knows this.
Then again, I’m not really sure what August knows or doesn’t know, what he understands and doesn’t understand.
Does August see how other people see him, or has he gotten so good at pretending not to see that it doesn’t bother him? Or does it bother him? When he looks in the mirror, does he see the Auggie Mom and Dad see, or does he see the Auggie everyone else sees? Or is there another August he sees, someone in his dreams behind the misshapen head and face? Sometimes when I looked at Grans, I could see the pretty girl she used to be underneath the wrinkles. I could see the girl from Ipanema inside the old-lady walk. Does August see himself as he might have looked without that single gene that caused the catastrophe of his face?
I wish I could ask him this stuff. I wish he would tell me how he feels. He used to be easier to read before the surgeries. You knew that when his eyes squinted, he was happy. When his mouth went straight, he was being mischievous. When his cheeks trembled, he was about to cry. He looks better now, no doubt about that, but the signs we used to gauge his moods are all gone. There are new ones, of course. Mom and Dad can read every single one. But I’m having trouble keeping up. And there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to keep trying: why can’t he just say what he’s feeling like everyone else? He doesn’t have a trache tube in his mouth anymore that keeps him from talking. His jaw’s not wired shut. He’s ten years old. He can use his words. But we circle around him like he’s still the baby he used to be. We change plans, go to plan B, interrupt conversations, go back on promises depending on his moods, his whims, his needs. That was fine when he was little. But he needs to grow up now. We need to let him, help him, make him grow up. Here’s what I think: we’ve all spent so much time trying to make August think he’s normal that he actually thinks he is normal. And the problem is, he’s not.
What I always loved most about middle school was that it was separate and different from home. I could go there and be Olivia Pullman—not Via, which is my name at home. Via was what they called me in elementary school, too. Back then, everyone knew all about us, of course. Mom used to pick me up after school, and August was always in the stroller. There weren’t a lot of people who were equipped to babysit for Auggie, so Mom and Dad brought him to all my class plays and concerts and recitals, all the school functions, the bake sales and the book fairs. My friends knew him. My friends’ parents knew him. My teachers knew him. The janitor knew him. (“Hey, how ya doin’, Auggie?” he’d always say, and give August a high five.) August was something of a fixture at PS 22.
But in middle school a lot of people didn’t know about August. My old friends did, of course, but my new friends didn’t. Or if they knew, it wasn’t necessarily the first thing they knew about me. Maybe it was the second or third thing they’d hear about me. “Olivia? Yeah, she’s nice. Did you hear she has a brother who’s deformed?” I always hated that word, but I knew it was how people described Auggie. And I knew those kinds of conversations probably happened all the time out of earshot, every time I left the room at a party, or bumped into groups of friends at the pizza place. And that’s okay. I’m always going to be the sister of a kid with a birth defect: that’s not the issue. I just don’t always want to be defined that way.
The best thing about high school is that hardly anybody knows me at all. Except Miranda and Ella, of course. And they know not to go around talking about it.
Miranda, Ella, and I have known each other since the first grade. What’s so nice is we never have to explain things to one another. When I decided I wanted them to call me Olivia instead of Via, they got it without my having to explain.
They’ve known August since he was a little baby. When we were little, our favorite thing to do was play dress up with Auggie; load him up with feather boas and big hats and Hannah Montana wigs. He used to love it, of course, and we thought he was adorably cute in his own way. Ella said he reminded her of E.T. She didn’t say this to be mean, of course (though maybe it was a little bit mean). The truth is, there’s a scene in the movie when Drew Barrymore dresses E.T. in a blond wig: and that was a ringer for Auggie in our Miley Cyrus heyday.
Throughout middle school, Miranda, Ella, and I were pretty much our own little group. Somewhere between super popular and well-liked: not brainy, not jocks, not rich, not druggies, not mean, not goody-goody, not huge, not flat. I don’t know if the three of us found each other because we were so alike in so many ways, or that because we found each other, we’ve become so alike in so many ways. We were so happy when we all got into Faulkner High School. It was such a long shot that all three of us would be accepted, especially when almost no one else from our middle school was. I remember how we screamed into our phones the day we got our acceptance letters.
This is why I haven’t understood what’s been going on with us lately, now that we’re actually in high school. It’s nothing like how I thought it would be.
Out of the three of us, Miranda had almost always been the sweetest to August, hugging him and playing with him long after Ella and I had moved on to playing something else. Even as we got older, Miranda always made sure to try to include August in our conversations, ask him how he was doing, talk to him about Avatar or Star Wars or Bone or something she knew he liked. It was Miranda who had given Auggie the astronaut helmet he wore practically every day of the year when he was five or six. She would call him Major Tom and they would sing “Space Oddity” by David Bowie together. It was their little thing. They knew all the words and would blast it on the iPod and sing the song out loud.
Since Miranda’s always been really good about calling us as soon as she got home from summer camp, I was a little surprised when I didn’t hear from her. I even texted her and she didn’t reply. I figured maybe she had ended up staying in the camp longer, now that she was a counselor. Maybe she met a cute guy.
Then I realized from her Facebook wall that she’d actually been back home for a full two weeks, so I sent her an IM and we chatted online a bit, but she didn’t give me a reason for not calling, which I thought was bizarre. Miranda had always been a little flaky, so I figured that’s all it was. We made plans to meet downtown, but then I had to cancel because we were driving out to visit Tata and Poppa for the weekend.
So I ended up not seeing either Miranda or Ella until the first day of school. And, I have to admit, I was shocked. Miranda looked so different: her hair was cut in this super-cute bob that she’d dyed bright pink, of all things, and she was wearing a striped tube top that (a) seemed way inappropriate for school, and (b) was totally not her usual style. Miranda had always been such a prude about clothes, and here she was all pink-haired and tube-topped. But it wasn’t just the way she looked that was different: she was acting differently, too. I can’t say she wasn’t nice, because she was, but she seemed kind of distant, like I was a casual friend. It was the weirdest thing in the world.
At lunch the three of us sat together like we always used to, but the dynamics had shifted. It was obvious to me that Ella and Miranda had gotten together a few times during the summer without me, though they never actually said that. I pretended not to be at all upset while we talked, though I could feel my face getting hot, my smile being fake. Although Ella wasn’t as over-the-top as Miranda, I noticed a change in her usual style, too. It’s like they had talked to each other beforehand about redoing their image at the new school, but hadn’t bothered to clue me in. I admit: I had always thought I was above this kind of typical teenage pettiness, but I felt a lump in
“I hear we’re driving you home today.”
It was Miranda in eighth period. She had just sat down at the desk right behind me. I had forgotten that Mom had called Miranda’s mother the night before to ask if she could drive me home from school.
“You don’t have to,” I answered instinctively, casually. “My mom can pick me up.”
“I thought she had to pick Auggie up or something.”
“It turns out she can pick me up afterward. She just texted me. Not a problem.”
It was all a lie on my part, but I couldn’t see sitting in a car with the new Miranda. After school I ducked into a restroom to avoid bumping into Miranda’s mother outside. Half an hour later I walked out of the school, ran the three blocks to the bus stop, hopped on the M86 to Central Park West, and took the subway home.
“Hey there, sweetie!” Mom said the moment I stepped through the front door. “How was your first day? I was starting to wonder where you guys were.”
“We stopped for pizza.” Incredible how easily a lie can slip through your lips.
“Is Miranda not with you?” She seemed surprised that Miranda wasn’t right behind me.
“She went straight home. We have a lot of homework.”
“On your first day?”
“Yes, on our first day!” I yelled, which completely surprised Mom. But before she could say anything, I said: “School was fine. It’s really big, though. The kids seem nice.” I wanted to give her enough information so she wouldn’t feel the need to ask me more. “How was Auggie’s first day of school?”
Mom hesitated, her eyebrows still high up on her forehead from when I’d snapped at her a second earlier. “Okay,” she said slowly, like she was letting out a breath.
“What do you mean ‘okay’?” I said. “Was it good or bad?”
“He said it was good.”
“So why do you think it wasn’t good?”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t good! Geez, Via, what’s up with you?”
“Just forget I asked anything at all,” I answered, and stormed dramatically into Auggie’s room and slammed the door. He was on his PlayStation and didn’t even look up. I hated how zombified his video games made him.
“So how was school?” I said, scooching Daisy over so I could sit on his bed next to him.
“Fine,” he answered, still not looking up from his game.
“Auggie, I’m talking to you!” I pulled the PlayStation out of his hands.
“Hey!” he said angrily.
“How was school?”
“I said fine!” he yelled back, grabbing the PlayStation back from me.
“Were people nice to you?”
“No one was mean?”
He put the PlayStation down and looked up at me as if I had just asked the dumbest question in the world. “Why would people be mean?” he said. It was the first time in his life that I heard him be sarcastic like that. I didn’t think he had it in him.
The Padawan Bites the Dust
I’m not sure at what point that night Auggie had cut off his Padawan braid, or why that made me really mad. I had always found his obsession with everything Star Wars kind of geeky, and that braid in the back of his hair, with its little beads, was just awful. But he had always been so proud of it, of how long it took him to grow it, of how he had chosen the beads himself in a crafts store in Soho. He and Christopher, his best friend, used to play with lightsabers and Star Wars stuff whenever they got together, and they had both started growing their braids at the same time. When August cut his braid off that night, without an explanation, without telling me beforehand (which was surprising)—or even calling Christopher—I was just so upset I can’t even explain why.
I’ve seen Auggie brushing his hair in the bathroom mirror. He meticulously tries to get every hair in place. He tilts his head to look at himself from different angles, like there’s some magic perspective inside the mirror that could change the dimensions of his face.
Mom knocked on my door after dinner. She looked drained, and I realized that between me and Auggie, today had been a tough day for her, too.
“So you want to tell me what’s up?” she asked nicely, softly.
“Not now, okay?” I answered. I was reading. I was tired. Maybe later I’d be up to telling her about Miranda, but not now.
“I’ll check in before you go to bed,” she said, and then she came over and kissed me on the top of my head.
“Can Daisy sleep with me tonight?”
“Sure, I’ll bring her in later.”
“Don’t forget to come back,” I said as she left.
But she didn’t come back that night. Dad did. He told me Auggie had had a bad first day and Mom was helping him through it. He asked me how my day had gone and I told him fine. He said he didn’t believe me for a second, and I told him Miranda and Ella were acting like jerks. (I didn’t mention how I took the subway home by myself, though.) He said nothing tests friendships like high school, and then proceeded to poke fun at the fact that I was reading War and Peace. Not real fun, of course, since I’d heard him brag to people that he had a “fifteen-year-old who is reading Tolstoy.” But he liked to rib me about where I was in the book, in a war part or in a peace part, and if there was anything in there about Napoleon’s days as a hip-hop dancer. It was silly stuff, but Dad always managed to make everyone laugh. And sometimes that’s all you need to feel better.
“Don’t be mad at Mom,” he said as he bent down to give me a good-night kiss. “You know how much she worries about Auggie.”
“I know,” I acknowledged.
“Want the light on or off? It’s getting kind of late,” he said, pausing by the light switch at the door.
“Can you bring Daisy in first?”
Two seconds later he came back with Daisy dangling in his arms, and he laid her down next to me on the bed.
“Good night, sweetheart,” he said, kissing my forehead. He kissed Daisy on her forehead, too. “Good night, girlie. Sweet dreams.”
An Apparition at the Door
Once, I got up in the middle of the night because I was thirsty, and I saw Mom standing outside Auggie’s room. Her hand was on the doorknob, her forehead leaning on the door, which was ajar. She wasn’t going in his room or stepping out: just standing right outside the door, as if she was listening to the sound of his breathing as he slept. The hallway lights were out. The only thing illuminating her was the blue night-light in August’s bedroom. She looked ghostlike standing there. Or maybe I should say angelic. I tried to walk back into my room without disturbing her, but she heard me and walked over to me.
“Is Auggie okay?” I asked. I knew that sometimes he would wake up choking on his own saliva if he accidentally turned over on his back.
“Oh, he’s fine,” she said, wrapping her arms around me. She walked me back into my room, pulled the covers over me, and kissed me good night. She never explained what she was doing outside his door, and I never asked.
I wonder how many nights she’s stood outside his door. And I wonder if she’s ever stood outside my door like that.
“Can you pick me up from school today?” I said the next morning, smearing some cream cheese on my bagel.
Mom was making August’s lunch (American cheese on whole-wheat bread, soft enough for Auggie to eat) while August sat eating oatmeal at the table. Dad was getting ready to go to work. Now that I was in high school, the new school routine was going to be that Dad and I would take the subway together in the morning, which meant his having to leave fifteen minutes earlier than usual, then I’d get off at my stop and he’d keep going. And Mom was going to pick me up after school in the car.
“I was going to call Miranda’s mother to see if she could dr
“No, Mom!” I said quickly. “You pick me up. Or I’ll just take the subway.”
“You know I don’t want you to take the subway by yourself yet,” she answered.
“Mom, I’m fifteen! Everybody my age takes the subway by themselves!”
“She can take the subway home,” said Dad from the other room, adjusting his tie as he stepped into the kitchen.
“Why can’t Miranda’s mother just pick her up again?” Mom argued with him.
“She’s old enough to take the subway by herself,” Dad insisted.
Mom looked at both of us. “Is something going on?” She didn’t address her question to either one of us in particular.
“You would know if you had come back to check on me,” I said spitefully, “like you said you would.”
“Oh God, Via,” said Mom, remembering now how she had completely ditched me last night. She put down the knife she was using to cut Auggie’s grapes in half (still a choking hazard for him because of the size of his palate). “I am so sorry. I fell asleep in Auggie’s room. By the time I woke up …”
“I know, I know.” I nodded indifferently.
Mom came over, put her hands on my cheeks, and lifted my face to look at her.
“I’m really, really sorry,” she whispered. I could tell she was.
“It’s okay!” I said.
“Mom, it’s fine.” This time I meant it. She looked so genuinely sorry I just wanted to let her off the hook.
She kissed and hugged me, then returned to the grapes.
“So, is something going on with Miranda?” she asked.
“Just that she’s acting like a complete jerk,” I said.
“Miranda’s not a jerk!” Auggie quickly chimed in.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio / Young Adult / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes