Out of the Incubator
Because of all his medical issues, ten-year-old August Pullman has always been home schooled. Now that he's more medically stable, his parents want him to start school. He likes the idea of school and learning cool stuff, but he totally dreads being the kid everyone stares at.
Auggie has been loved, nurtured, and protected, but now that he is older and stronger (both physically and emotionally), his parents recognize that it is time for him to face the world. Not only does he need to learn fractions and stuff, he also needs to know how to deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we're talking about more than faces, here.
Into the Fire
So Auggie starts fifth grade, the first year of middle school at Beecher Prep. Not one to overlook the magnitude of Auggie's transition, school principal Mr. Tushman has recruited three kids to be welcome buddies for August. Jack Will, Charlotte, and Julian give Auggie the school tour.
Jack and Charlotte are nice enough, but Julian can't handle Auggie's uh, non-traditional appearance. Rather than try to get past his discomfort, he keeps his distance with rudeness and mockery, which soon turns into habitual bullying.
Kids at school get used to Auggie's face, but that doesn't mean they accept him—a "game" called the Plague makes Auggie untouchable. But despite being almost universally avoided at school, Auggie makes a couple good friends. Summer Dawson saves him from utter solitude in the lunchroom by sitting with him on the first day of school (and every day since), and they have become good friends. Cool beans.
And as Jack learns to see the Auggie beneath the face, he realizes what a good friend Auggie is. These two joke around together all the time; they're really good friends.
At least, that's what Auggie thinks.
A series of unexpected snafus on the morning of Halloween results in Auggie wearing an alternate costume, which makes him doubly incognito. Since people don't know who it is under his mask, nobody knows to avoid touching him. Or that he can hear them talking about him.
Ever wish you could turn the clock back and un-know something? Sitting anonymously in his last-minute costume, Auggie hears Jack say, "'I've thought about this a lot, […] and I really think… if I looked like him, seriously, I think that I'd kill myself'" (1.The Bleeding Scream.9). Jack goes on to tell Julian that his entire relationship with August has been entirely engineered by Mr. Tushman: Jack is allegedly an unwilling victim of an unwanted friendship. August is devastated.
Jack is bewildered and upset when Auggie dumps him. The boys eventually make up after Jack realizes what happened on Halloween, and punches Julian in the mouth for calling August a freak.
So Julian starts a war, turning nearly all of the fifth grade boys against Jack—for being friends with August.
Okay, it's not really like Fight Club. But there is a fight. And Auggie does want to keep it quiet. So it's Fight Club-ish.
The Beecher Prep fifth graders are enjoying an outdoor movie night at their Nature Retreat. When Jack needs to find the restroom, Auggie accompanies him. A huge line for the bathroom sends the boys in search of relief in the trees.
Unfortunately they bump into a group of older kids looking for trouble, and as soon as they get a look at Auggie, they start flipping out. "No freakin' way, man! No freakin' way! […] What is that?" (8.Alien.5-7). In full bully mode, the kids block Jack and August from leaving as they argue about whether Auggie is more Gollum, orc, or Alien.
It gets worse—one of the kids throws a firecracker at Jack and Auggie; Eddie shoves Jack hard; there is more verbal abuse. Talk about ugly. Luckily three boys from Beecher prep who had also been out in the woods have doubled back to see what the ruckus is. Amos, Miles, and Henry come to the aid of their classmates, calmly trying to defuse the situation—but when Eddie yanks Auggie to the ground by the hood of his hoodie, Amos explodes into action, ramming into Eddie.
In the wake of the fight, Auggie's hurt, frightened, and upset, but he gets that something really big just happened: boys who shunned him all year long have just defended him. They stood up for him and they helped him to safety, suddenly treating him as one of their own. They even high-five him, Shmoopsters.
It's awesome, and it's not just a passing moment. Auggie returns to the fairgrounds flanked on all sides by the boys in his class who have decided to look out for him.
Plague-Free, At Last
Did you hear about the middle school kid who was able to keep that awkward thing that happened quiet? Of course you didn't—it's probably never happened. Why not? Well, gossip, for starters. And, teachers. You know they have some kind of spooky sixth sense about these things.
So in the end everyone hears about what happened to Auggie in the woods at camp. Everyone hears that Amos, Henry, and Miles protected Auggie. The fight in the woods is a major tipping point, but kids' attitudes toward Auggie had already begun to thaw in the months leading up to camp.
Auggie has simply been himself—a really nice person—all year long. He is patient and long-suffering in the face of rejection, understanding about how hard it must be for others to tolerate his appearance. He cracks jokes at his own expense all the time, and he always gives people the benefit of the doubt and a second chance. His nemesis, Julian, has been pretty much the opposite of that. And kids finally start to get the picture.
Although it probably should have happened a lot sooner, it takes the injustice of senseless violence toward August for it to finally click with everyone that he is just a kid like any other; a kid who doesn't deserve to be tortured for the way he looks.
Earlier in the story, as August joins the audience in a standing ovation for his sister's performance in the school play, he muses, "For a second, I imagined how cool it would be to be Via and Justin right then, having all these people standing up and cheering for them" (6.The Ending.8).
He never imagines that he will end up being the kid on stage for whom everyone is standing and cheering. But on graduation day at Beecher Prep, he is that kid, bowing his head to accept the Henry Ward Beecher medal as the cheering, clapping crowd rises to its feet.
Auggie's made the high honor roll, but the medal he gets isn't for academics—August's award is for the less-quantifiable qualities of character, courage, and greatness, all of which he possesses in spades.