Study Guide

Olivia "Via" Pullman in Wonder

By R.J. Palacio

Olivia "Via" Pullman

Space Oddity

The epigraph for part two of Wonder, narrated by Auggie's big sister Via, is from David Bowie's "Space Oddity." Check it out:

Far above the world.
Planet Earth is blue,
And there's nothing I can do.

In the annotations section of her web site, author R.J. Palacio writes, "I think Via is torn between her own version of returning to Earth, which is the world Auggie inhabits (and sometimes inhibits), and choosing the freedom of space, which is the world beyond Auggie and everything he represents." And we don't blame Via—being Auggie's sister is tricky and majorly impacts her life. While she clearly adores him, it makes sense that she might daydream about how else her life might be.

Via likes space metaphors too. She introduces us to her family by taking us on a "Tour of the Galaxy." She explains the Pullmans like this:

August is the Sun. [Via] and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun. The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun. (2.A Tour of the Galaxy.1)

And though she assures us emphatically that she's "used to the way this universe works," and that she's "never minded it because it's all [she has] ever known" (2.A Tour of the Galaxy.2), we think Via just might feel guilty about sometimes wishing her life were a little simpler and she got a little more attention—which are totally valid feelings to have in response to growing up with a sibling who requires a lot of attention and support.

But whatever complicated feelings Via might have, they don't stop her from being a wonderful big sister to Auggie. One of our favorite things about her is her willingness to get in people's faces when they are rude to her brother. She says:

"What the heck are you looking at?" I'd say to people—even grown-ups. (2, Seeing August, 1)

But she doesn't just call people out for gawking at her brother—she also knows him really well. So well, in fact, that she sees right through his stomach bug ruse and gets to the bottom of his trouble at school. And while we admire Via's brazen willingness to confront people in Auggie's defense, she brings real gentleness to the stomach bug situation. Check it out:

"Sometimes kids are stupid," she says softly, holding his hand. "I'm sure he didn't mean it." (2.Trick of Treat.20)

Pretty sweet, right? But as great as Via is, she's also struggling with her own coming of age and identity issues. While some have to do with Auggie and his role in her life, others have to do with her friendships at school and figuring out the right relationship between her home life and her school life—all of which is pretty typical growing-up stuff.

Divide and Conquer?

It's no small thing to say "The galaxy is changing. Planets are falling out of alignment" (2.A Tour of the Galaxy.5). Somebody better get NASA on the phone, right? Except we don't actually need the Hubble Space Telescope to see what's going on here because Via is busting out a metaphor with her whole galaxy-is-changing bit. Via is starting high school, Auggie is starting middle school, and Via's old friendships are disintegrating—both kids are redefining themselves and their place in the world. And with this, the galaxy of their family shifts.

Having suffered innumerable play dates that were never repeated (kids were too scared to come back after seeing Auggie), Via has found happy safety with a small core of trusted friends. But she's also learned to partition her life into two identities: Via at home, and Olivia at school. She has figured out, "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" (2.High School.2). Via wants a chance to stand alone.

As she gets older and schools get bigger, Via enjoys the greater anonymity and autonomy of not always being associated with such a noteworthy brother. Is anyone surprised? We think it's possible that the same would be true if Auggie were a piano prodigy or super-advanced brainiac. What Via wants isn't a different brother—it's a chance to stand outside his shadow. Do you agree?

That Shifty Cosmos

Via's needs have taken a back seat to Auggie's for as long as he has been alive. So it's totally normal that she would have some resentment, but it's really hard for Via to even acknowledge—let alone accept—this. She says:

I've seen August after his surgeries: his little face all bandaged up and swollen, his tiny body full of IVs and tubes to keep him alive. After you've seen someone else going through that, it feels kind of crazy to complain over not getting the toy you had asked for, or your mom missing a school play. (2.A Tour of the Galaxy.3)

Nevertheless, it's true that Via suffers too. She is often overlooked, and sometimes even forgotten. Consider this exchange she has with her mom:

"Don't forget to come back," I said as she left.

"I promise."

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. (2.The Padawan Bites the Dust.9-11)

Though it's not like her parents forget her completely—her dad comes to get her—Via definitely gets lost in the shuffle a bit, treated like a piece that can be moved according to Auggie's needs. And it's not like this is something that happens on rare occasions. Nope—there are too many examples to count of Via's needs getting eclipsed by Auggie's. She explains it like this:

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. (2.August Through the Peephole.5)

Even as she touches on the ways in which it is difficult for her as Auggie's sibling, Via keeps his needs in mind. It isn't just that Via needs a change, after all, but that both she and Auggie are ready for a more egalitarian future.

All we can say is: Watch out, universe.