Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May 2014 Bookers Minutes & Musings, Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Like an oyster that coats a single grain of sand until an iridescent gem forms, the spirit of a pure and innocent child is as matchless as a pearl and a miracle to behold. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Bookers’ member, Marlene Ungarean, and her family, always, but especially on this day.

22 met at the home of Bonnie Magee for this month’s meeting. Rosemary Farmer co-hosted the event with her usual flair adorning the coffee table with a black hoodie, a statue of a little boy wearing a helmet and reading a book, and copies of Wonder scattered around. A special thank you to Melba for loaning us “Auggie.” We welcomed new PWC member, Joanna Linder, to the group, and first-timer, Fran Farmer and were glad to see Bernie Quickel again. We hope to see all of you when we resume in September.

Beverly Dossett’s granddaughter, Olivia, a fourth-grader and an avid reader insisted her Mimi read this one. She did, and so did we beginning the love-fest with Wonder. Although the book targets middle school readers, it is relevant to all age groups and in our humble opinion, is a must read for children, parents, and grandparents. Olivia recorded a video and through the voice of a ten-year old, told us why Wonder is so special to her. The saying, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” was evident, as it appears Ms. Olivia shares her grandmother’s passion for the written word. Thanks to both Beverly and Olivia for sharing this with us.

Jean Alexander led the review on this “wondrous” book by sharing some details on the author, R.J. Palacio, and her inspiration for this book. Five years ago, Ms. Palacio and her two children went out for milkshakes. She and her three-year old son waited outside on a bench. Sitting beside her was a little girl with severe craniofacial differences. The youngest reacted by starting to cry very loudly and her immediate reaction was to push the stroller away in order to spare the little girl’s feelings. The “scene” made a lasting impression on Ms. Palacio knowing she missed an opportunity to set an example for her children. Coincidentally, the song, “Wonder,” by Natalie Merchant came on the radio that night – the words, “fate smiled and destiny laughed as she came to my cradle,” spoke to her and she began writing the novel that evening. Written in first-person from six different points of view, Wonder allows the reader to see how the outside of Auggie affects the view of the inside of Auggie.

Ten-year old August Pullman (Auggie) knew he wasn’t an ordinary kid although he did all the ordinary things…eat ice cream, ride bikes, play ball, “but ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming” and they don’t “get stared at wherever they go.” If granted one wish he would like a normal face that no one ever noticed at all. It’s hard to blend in “when you’re born to stand out.” Then throw the trauma of going to any school for the first time much less 5th grade with features like “drippings on the side of a candle.” His eyes, one lower than the other and halfway down his cheeks slanted downward; he had no eyebrows, eyelashes, or cheekbones; a nose disproportionally big for his face; a head pinched in on the sides like someone had used pliers to crush the middle part of his face, and he had tiny cauliflower ears. His favorite holiday was Halloween because he could be an ordinary kid behind that mask. Disappearing into middle school proved to be an impossible challenge. But, in spite of his outward appearance, he was blessed with life, loving parents and a sister, a smattering of friends, a sense of humor…and after twenty-seven surgeries, the ability to speak, hear, and eat…all monumental achievements for this young boy.
His older sister, Via, knew “August was the sun that everyone revolved around” and was always mad when others reacted – “horrified, sickened, and scared” – to his physical appearance, until she spent a month away from him. Only then did she understand “normal” and realized there were two Auggies – the one she blindly saw, and the one others saw. Her brother’s medical condition represented the pathway to her adulthood and she dreamed of becoming a geneticist to find a cure for people like Auggie. Summer, the beautiful popular girl at school who sat down with Auggie at lunch on his first day, chapter begins with Christina Aguilera’s words – “you are beautiful no matter what they say…words can’t bring you down.” Summer confessed at first she felt sorry for him but discovered how fun he was. Their bond between “the beauty and the beast” was never broken. Jack Will’s chapter begins with a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s, The Little Prince: “it is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” This segment begins with the author’s true-life experience and Jack’s involvement in being Auggie’s “welcome buddy” and evolves into Jack recognizing he really wants to be his friend. Justin, Via’s musician boyfriend, chapter is written without uppercase or proper punctuation. Why? The author tells us because of her musical background she thinks the low notes on a musical staff look like lowercase letters of the alphabet or as a graphic designer, she sees typefaces and fonts not just as communication devices, but as visual cues for other things. Because Justin was a musician, it seemed natural to represent his thoughts in lowercase. (Sincere apologies to Leslie Mullins who researched and brought examples of this to the meeting and we failed to discuss this portion of the book.) Justin had a kind heart toward Auggie… “the universe takes care of all its birds.” Miranda, joined at the hip with Via since first-grade who treated Auggie like her sibling, chose a high-school click over life-long friendship but learned a valuable lesson of how false-loyalty leads to isolation and heartache. As always, our discussion focused on personal stories and triumphs and we greatly appreciate each of you sharing your thoughts and experiences. This novel made you laugh and cry in the same sentence, captured the emotional ride of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances, and illustrated how the smallness of others can fester into a “black cloth of ugliness.”

The author “shuffles the social deck” covering fleeting friendships, loyalty, middle-school politics, teenagers, bullying, the cruelty of viscous words and the pain of betrayal. Ms. Palacio takes each character that encounters Auggie and places them squarely in his shoes. She uses this as a lesson in kindness and an introspective of how they should put stock in their own values rather than cave to the falseness of the popularity game.

Auggie’s precept: “There should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.” Take your bow Ms. Alexander!

Several members have read or are currently reading, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It’s the current Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction, and a staple on the bestseller list. Bernie Crudden, Pat Faherty, and Donna Walter have finished all 700+ pages describing it as having a “love/hate relationship” with the book. Patsy Dehn says it is well written, but has not finished. None were comfortable in recommending it as a Bookers’ book. We will table it for now and let you know what MN thinks after she reads it.
Thank you to everyone who raised their hands to review/and or host our Bookers’ meetings as we begin our 11th year together in September. And, a standing ovation to Mssrs. Korbel, Cook, and Tropicana for joining forces to WD-40 our volunteering buttons. Pat, Patty, Bernie, Melba, Joanna, Jean A., & Jane have agreed to review (subject to approval of book selections) and Donna, Patty, Jean A., Sandy, Melba, Bonnie, Joanna, Beverly, Kay, & Patsy have offered their homes for our meetings. Please check your calendars to see if you can host the November, January, February, March, or April meetings and e-mail me when possible. First-come first-served.

In the coming year, we are planning to schedule the review and discussion at the beginning of the meeting and conduct the business at the end if we are successful in keeping everyone’s attention after the review. Today was a test and you passed!
                                        COLOR CODING SYSTEM
                                        WHITE:         LIGHT READ
                                        PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
                                        RED:              CHALLENGING
Summer Break:           June, July & August
                                    Summer Read, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
September 9th:             Beginning of Bookers 11th year
                                    The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Home: MN Stanky
                                    Reviewers: Responsibility of MN & JoDee

October 14th :              The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
                                    Home of Bonnie Magee, Co-host Rosemary Farmer
                                    Reviewer: Joanna Linder

November 11th:           Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlanta
                                    Home: TBD
                                    Reviewer: Bernie Crudden

December 9th:              Book: TBD – Evening Holiday Party & Meeting
                                    Home of Joanna Linder
January 13th, 2015       TBD
February 10th:              TBD
March 10th:                  TBD
April 14th:                    TBD
May 12th:                     Book TBD
                                    Home of Beverly Dossett
Summer Break:           June, July & August
September 8th:             Bookers 12th year

“August” used as an adjective means imposing, grand, majestic, standing above others in quality or position. Said of Auggie when he received the Henry Ward Beecher award, “He is the greatest whose strength carries the most hearts,” leads us to believe “August” was a purposeful selection by the author.

Happy Reading,

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