I not only have this blog post, but also a podcast! It may vary slightly from this post (it’s not a direct transcript) but I still say basically the same thing. Give it a listen!
**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
Wonder by R. J. Palacio (2012)
Wonder directed by Stephen Chbosky (2017)
Normal: A Mother and Her Beautiful Son by Magdalena Newman (2020)
This is about a 10 year old boy with Treacher Collins syndrome-a condition that effects the development of the face- who is going into the 5th grade after being homeschooled his whole life. It goes through perspectives of him-August, his sister-Via, as well as the perspectives of a few other kids at Augusts new school, and two of Via’s friends.
It just goes through the daily life and the drama at school. Auggie and his new friend Jack are bullied by this other kid named Julian and all his buddies. By the end of the book though, everyone is happy and things are great.
This book was an easy, quick read. I enjoyed the different perspectives, had it all just been August I could see maybe getting a bit bored.
Not to be a downer, but I felt this story was a little too perfect. People said it would make me cry, I guess happy and sad tears, but it didn’t. Though that may be because the ‘saddest’ part in the book is when the family dog dies. I mean come on, how cliche can you get?
Anyway, having said all that, with fiction I sometimes figure, hey it’s not real anyway, so may as well make it happy cause sometimes real life is hard enough.
Palacio was inspired to write this when she went to an ice cream shop and there was a girl with TCS, when her son saw the girl he started crying. Palacio didn’t know what to do, so she hurried and left. Afterwards she felt so bad for having that reaction, so she researched the subject and decided to write this book.
Normal: A Mother and Her Beautiful Son
This book made me want to read a book that was actually written by someone with Treacher Collins and see a more realistic view-so I did! I read Normal: A Mother and Her Beautiful Son. In the book she talks about when the book Wonder came out and how it was such a big deal for her family to be represented like that. Reading that did make me appreciate Wonder more, even though it isn’t a personal favorite, I like that it did help families of people with TCS and other such syndromes.
The beginning is her talking about all the various surgeries he had within the first few years-he’s had 67! Even though each of these moments she talks about was a huge deal, when they’re talked about one right after the other like that, the reader starts to not care. Not that I don’t care what they had to go through, but it’s just not a good set up for a book. Mention one or two of the biggest ones and by talking about less of them, the reader will be more caring, in my opinion. Though I’m sure someone who has been through similar experiences would appreciate all the details.
They had a crazy story though, because later, shortly after they have a second child, the mom is diagnosed with cancer. Chemo helps, but then it causes issues later, then it comes back.
But back to her son, Nathaniel. She talks about when he gets his first hearing aid when he was like one year old and how he became such a happier baby. Which was similar to Wonder when he gets his hearing aids for the first time and it opens up a whole new world to him.
When the book Wonder came out, the dad and brother read it and loved it. The mom wasn’t able to read it at first because it hit too close to home. When Nathaniel read it, it actually wasn’t a big deal. The book goes back and forth between the mom’s perspective and Nathaniel’s (though mostly the mom) but here is what he said,
“It may sound strange, but reading Wonder was not a monumental occasion for me. (Confession: No book is really a monumental occasion for me)…To me, Auggie has medical issues that are similar to mine, but he has a completely different personality…But then, I started to see what people were getting from the book, how it was actually changing their behavior toward me, that’s when I understood how powerful the book it. That was monumental.”
He would also join author R. J. Palacio when she spoke at schools and would be referred to as the “real life Auggie”, but here is what he said about it, “I visited schools to support R.J. and the book, and because it was kind of fun, but in my day to day life I don’t want to be seen as Auggie Pullman, or the “real Wonder boy”. First of all, I’m not the only kid with Treacher Collins, and secondly, I just want to be seen as a normal kid who just happens to look different.”
Nathaniel has a really good attitude towards those who stare or are even taken aback when they see him. His mom raised him to think nothing of it, so he doesn’t. They did come in contact with a woman that was very similar to the mom of Julian in Wonder, and she says the experience with that family has been the only times he’s been really distraught by the way someone reacted to him.
The reason I wanted to read this, was to see what it was actually like for someone with TCS, and for the parents. This gave good insight, and I think the way the parent views things, and how the child with TCS view things is very different. I think that’s to be expected though because the mom had to deal with all this stuff when he was a baby/toddler, that Nathaniel doesn’t even remember. Plus, to Nathaniel and kids like him, this is normal for him because it’s what he’s always known. Giving birth to a child with TCS was completely life changing for Magdalena, but having TCS isn’t life changing for Nathaniel, because it’s all he knows.
The movie follows the book very closely. They left our a couple of perspectives that were in the book, but overall it’s an accurate adaptation.
Jacob Trembley plays Auggie and he does a great job. He’s definitely one of the better child actors we’ve had recently. I saw him in Room and he was amazing. He had to wear prosthetics for this movie of course, which would usually take hours to apply. Trembley could only work 9 hours a day though, so they needed to cut down the time it would take to apply the make-up. They brought it down to 75 minutes which is impressive. Kind of funny though, they could have hired someone that actually has TCS and saved all that time and money (Magda Newman also comments on this in Normal). But I get that finding a good child actor is hard enough, let alone finding a child who can act and has TCS.
Owen Wilson is perfectly cast as the dad that always makes others laugh. Wilson may play similar characters all the time, but I don’t mind! I love Owen Wilson and his brother Luke. They seem like great, down to earth guys. In Normal, she and her family got to go to the set of Wonder and she says how great Wilson was interacting with their kids and talking to them. His acting in this is good, although I didn’t think he and Julia Roberts had very good chemistry. The scenes with him and the kids were good though.
Julia Roberts plays the mom and she does fine. This seemed like an odd casting choice though for some reason. Like I said, she and Owen Wilson didn’t have the best chemistry and her scenes with other people and kids were fine, but I wasn’t especially impressed.
Izabela Vidovic plays the sister, Via. I have no complaints with her performance. The end scene, when they are clapping for Auggie, she seemed to be genuinely touched, crying real tears.
Daveed Diggs plays Auggie’s teacher, Mr. Browne. I wouldn’t even mention his character, because he isn’t in it much. But he’s played by Diggs, which if you’ve seen Hamilton you will recognize as the guy who played Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson! So, it was cool seeing him in a movie. And he does a good job playing the cool, friendly teacher.
The other various kid actors did a good job. Like I said above, finding convincing child actors can be hard, and a movie that where they main character are kids can be tough for me to watch. But these kids did a good job, and I didn’t find myself getting very annoyed with them.
Small Movie Differences
To start, a minor difference is that in the book, Auggie’s room is covered with Star Wars related stuff, but in the movie it’s outer space related things. They also had Mr. Browne be his homeroom teacher, whereas in the book he only taught English. Also, in the book Auggie made a point to sit in the back for every class, but in the movie, he sits up front. In the book they briefly mention that Charlotte was in one commercial when she was younger. In the movie she is a full on commercial actress and talks about it all the time.
They also had the mom working on her Master’s, but in the book the mom was a former illustrator but wasn’t currently working I don’t think.
The feud with Miranda and Via was different because for one, Ella (the third friend) wasn’t even in the movie. In the book, the three of them are friends and on the first day of school, the two of them have changed their look and make it clear they met up over summer, and Via wasn’t included. They still sit together during lunch, but then Via decided to spend a week hanging out in the library during lunch. While there she makes a friend and after that starts sitting with a new group of kids during lunch. In the movie there is no Ella, and right from the start, Miranda just sits with a different group, leaving Via alone to find somewhere to sit.
Another small change, in the book the science fair project he and Jack do is a lamp that is powered by a potato. In the movie, they make a film booth thing.
Near the end of the book and movie they do a camp out at a nature reserve. In the book, Julian chooses not to go because he thinks he’s too cool for that. In the movie he is unable to go because he is suspended when he is caught giving mean notes to Auggie.
Speaking of the notes, in the book Julian is the main mean kid and after Jack punches him, Julian gets the boys in their grade to pick sides. There is a “war” between the kids, and the kids on Julian’s side ignore Jack, do mean things to him, and leave him mean notes. Eventually, the other kids get tired of the whole thing, and stop picking on Jack even though Julian still continues it. Jack and Auggie never tell an adult about the notes, however at the end of the year the principal has somehow found out. By this point, Julian’s parents have already decided to transfer schools anyway because they think it was wrong to have let Auggie in, even if he isn’t mentally challenged. (They go to a private school which only allows kids who are able to pass certain tests. So, a mentally disabled child wouldn’t be able to attend. Auggie has perfectly fine brain functions and does really well in school, but the mom thinks that the fact that he looks weird should be enough to not allow him in a private school.)
In the movie, Auggie is still into wearing his helmet and will put it on as soon as he’s done at school. In the book, the helmet was something that was looked back on, because it had been a couple years since he’d worn it. In both the book and movie, we discover that the helmet didn’t go missing, his dad took it and got rid of it because he didn’t want Auggie hiding his face.
A change I didn’t like, was that they made Summer a smaller role in the movie. On the first day of school in the book, Summer chooses to go sit with Auggie and sit with him every day after. In the movie, she doesn’t sit with him until part way through the year, when he and Jack get in a fight. Speaking of which, in the movie, Jack starts sitting with August early on. Then August over hears what Jack says to Julian, after which, August tells Jack not to sit with him anymore. When Jack no longer sits with him, Summer goes over and sits. In the book, as I said, Summer was sitting with him from the very first day. Jack never sat with him at lunch until after they made up and became friends again.
With Via, in the movie she meets Justin when she is standing next to a bulletin board and he asks her about the sign up for the play. She doesn’t even notice the sign up, but after talking to him and seeing him sign up, she decides to too. In the book, she meets Justin when she starts sitting with the smart kids at lunch. He is part of that group and eventually they start dating. Then when there is the play sign up, they both audition. He gets the lead and is nervous about it but Via helps him with his lines. In both book and movie, he plays the fiddle, but in the book he is really into it and it helps him stay calm when he’s nervous. He is allowed to have the fiddle as a prop during the play and it helps him with the nerves.
Via also confides in her dad what was going on with Miranda. In both the movie and book, she asks her mom to come to her room after she sees August because Via wants to tell her about everything. In both, the mom is too busy with Auggie, so the dad checks in. In the book, Via tells her dad about how Miranda has changed and how it sucks. In the movie, when he checks in on her she tells him that her first day was great.
Back to the nature reserve, in the movie, when they are picked on by older kids, it’s still bright out. In the book, it was night and without their flashlights, it’s pitch black and they can’t see anything. This makes the whole experience even more scary for them. Also, in the book, it was a big deal and when they returned to the movie, word spread fast about the big kids picking on Auggie, and how Julian’s friends and Jack fought the big kids. Word got to the teachers and principal, and they call August’s parents, so they already know before he even gets home. In the movie, word didn’t spread and August tells his parents himself.
One of the biggest differences, is the storyline with his hearing aids which is totally left out of the movie. When the big kids are bullying them, his hearing aids come off and he loses them. Getting the hearing aids in the first place was a big deal because at the beginning of the book he doesn’t have them and doesn’t want them because he thinks he hears fine and is worried they will make him look dumb. At his yearly test he fails the hearing section and is fitting for special hearings aids. At first, he hates them and refuses to wear them, but then they are turned on and he realizes how bad his hearing really was. After that, he has no problems wearing them in public.
There is also a scene where Jack is at Auggie’s house the same time Justin is with Via. Jack and Justin leave at the same time and Justin waits with Jacks at the bus stop till Jack’s bus comes. While waiting they talk a little, Jack goes in a convenience store and while in it, Justin see’s Julian and his friends picking on Jack. Jack handles it well though and when Justin asks, he tells him what’s going on at school. Once Jack is on the bus, Justin goes to the subway station where he sees Julian. He goes up and “threatens” him against messing with Jack. I thought the scene with the two of them was cute and wish it would have been included.
Also, with Justin, when Via first meets him she lies and says she is an only child. In the book this never happened.
Another thing with the play, Miranda signs up as a way to try and get close to Via, not expecting to actually get the role. Prior to the auditions, she was helping the drama teacher make copies of the school play and see’s it’s The Elephant Man. While perusing the script, she reads it’s about a man who is severally deformed. She tells the drama teacher they can’t do this play, because her little brother has a facial deformity (going along with the lie she started at camp, telling people Auggie was her brother). The teacher is upset but agrees to change it to Our Town.
Neither the book or movie became favorites of mine and I don’t know if I would watch or read either again. Reading Normal helped me to appreciate more what Wonder has done. To teach kids to treat everyone with kindness, no matter what they look like because everyone is going though struggles, some just aren’t as apparent as others. That doesn’t mean treat people with “disabilities” extra kind, but rather treat everyone with kindness, and to try and see things from their perspective. This goes along with the line at the end, how everyone deserves a standing ovation because everyone has gone through trials in life.
Book or Movie
Honestly, this might be a tie. Like it said, neither one “stole my heart” so to speak. Though, I suppose in the end I liked the book a bit more. It shared more perspectives than the movie did which I liked.
In the end, I admire the author for writing about this. Taking the responsibility to look into it and to do the research, after the experience she had with her son. And like Nathaniel says, the impact this has had on people who read it is big. If it helps people treat others with kindness, regardless of what that person looks like or what their background is, is a big deal. I certainly wouldn’t discourage someone from reading it, and I think kids could definitely benefit from it.
If you or a family member has Treacher Collins or something similar, I would love to hear your thoughts on this book and movie!