Study Guide

Wonder Suffering

By R.J. Palacio

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Maybe no one got the Darth Sidious thing, and maybe Julian didn't mean anything at all. But in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Darth Sidious's face gets burned by Sith lightning and becomes totally deformed. His skin gets all shriveled up and his whole face just kind of melts.

I peeked at Julian and he was looking at me. Yeah, he knew what he was saying. (1.Lamb To the Slaughter.20-21)

That's some sneaky, fly-under-the-radar psychological torture. Not only does Julian insult Auggie's appearance with this comment, but he also draws a lot of unwanted attention toward Auggie, who is totally not ready for it.

I could tell I was being stared at without even looking up. I knew that people were nudging each other, watching me out of the corners of their eyes. I thought I was used to those kinds of stares by now, but I guess I wasn't. (1.Lunch.4)

To be strange looking and friendless, and to have both conditions on display for all to see, is a double-whammy that first day in the lunch room.

I hate the way I eat. I know how weird it looks. I had a surgery to fix my cleft palate when I was a baby, and then a second cleft surgery when I was four, but I still have a hole in the roof of my mouth. And even though I had jaw-alignment surgery a few years ago I have to chew food in the front of my mouth. (1.Lunch.6)

Auggie is self-conscious about the way he eats. Kids at birthday parties have not wanted to sit next to him because of the way he eats. It's messy, but he physically cannot help it—and now he has to eat lunch in public every day. Auggie descends into a pit of self-loathing over the way he eats, comparing himself to "some prehistoric swamp thing" (1.Lunch.6).

Mom always had this habit of asking me how something felt on a scale of one to ten. It started after I had my jaw surgery, when I couldn't talk because my mouth was wired shut. They had taken a piece of bone from my hip bone to insert into my chin to make it look more normal, so I was hurting in a lot of different places. Mom would point to one of my bandages, and I would hold up my fingers to show her how much it was hurting. (1.One to Ten.1)

The kid knows physical pain—he's had twenty-seven surgeries before the age of ten. Yikes. Do you think that having experienced so much physical pain makes enduring emotional pain any more manageable?

I don't know what Jack answered because I walked out of the class without anyone knowing I had been there. My face felt like it was on fire while I walked back down the stairs. I was sweating under my costume. And I started crying. I couldn't keep it from happening. The tears were so thick in my eyes I could barely see, but I couldn't wipe them through the mask as I walked. I was looking for a little tiny spot to disappear into. I wanted a hole I could fall inside of: a little black hole that would eat me up. (1.The Bleeding Scream.15)

We're willing to bet that not one of Auggie's surgeries made him feel quite this bad.

Rat boy. Freak. Monster. Freddy Krueger. E.T. Gross-out. Lizard face. Mutant. I know the names they call me. I've been in enough playgrounds to know kids can be mean. I know, I know, I know. (1.Names.1)

"Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me." Nah, scratch that—words hurt.

"You sure you're not up for the Halloween Parade?"


This surprised me. Usually August was such a trouper about his medical issues, whether it was skateboarding a few days after a surgery or sipping food through a straw when his mouth was practically bolted shut. This was a kid who's gotten more shots, taken more medicines, put up with more procedures by the age of ten than most people would have to put up with in ten lifetimes, and he was sidelined from a little nausea? (2.Trick or Treat.9-11)

Since Via knows all about how much Auggie has suffered physically, she sees through his nausea fakery. She suspects that the real problem lies elsewhere, and gets the truth out of Auggie.

"I bet he was like, hey, Jack, if you make friends with the freak, you don't have to take any tests this year."

"You know that's not true. And don't call yourself a freak."

"Whatever. I wish I'd never gone to school in the first place."

"But I thought you were liking it."

"I hate it!" He was angry all of a sudden, punching his pillow. "I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!" He was shrieking at the top of his lungs.

I didn't say anything. I didn't know what to say. He was hurt. He was mad. (2.Trick or Treat.21-26)

Auggie doesn't have to suffer alone or in silence. By dragging the painful truth out of him, Via gives Auggie the much-needed chance to cry and rage and unload some of his pain. And then by telling him he can have all her Halloween candy, she unleashes some serious magical healing.

"Do people go out of their way to avoid touching you, Via?" he answered, which left me momentarily without an answer. "Yeah, right. That's what I thought. So don't compare your bad days at school to mine, okay?" (2.Time to Think.17)

There are bad days and there are bad days. And unfortunately, Auggie is intimately acquainted with the difference.

For a while, the "war" was all we talked about. February was when it was really at its worst. That's when practically nobody was talking to us, and Julian had started leaving notes in our lockers. The notes to Jack were stupid, like: You stink, big cheese! And Nobody likes you anymore!

I got notes like: Freak! And another that said: Get out of our school, orc! (6.The Auggie Doll.1-2)

Auggie and Jack are being ruthlessly harassed. Was your first thought that they should show the notes to an adult? Summer certainly thinks so. But these two don't want to be snitches. And they don't let those notes get them down. Instead Auggie and Jack crack themselves up by writing notes to Julian from an imaginary person named Beulah. By turning the whole thing into a joke, the boys take away the power of those notes to hurt them.

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