• Alicia Assad

Wonder is a Life-Changer

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." ~The Dalai Lama

All week long, I've been mulling on what to tell you about the Wonder, the book by R.J. Palacio that recently made its way to the big screen with a star-studded cast.

I stumbled upon Wonder a few months back on an excursion to Barnes&Noble. I was heading to checkout with a stack of books for me hand (I have a minor book obsession), when a bright blue children's book stopped me dead in my tracks.

The Power of an Inspiring Story

I was easily intrigued by a story centered on Auggie Pullman, a young boy with a genetic facial difference. Given William's burn scars, and the conversations we have had about how to deal with being different, I was eager to know how Auggie transitioned into school and managed bullies. I headed home thinking this character could model the resilience William needs to navigate a complicated and sometimes cruel world.

My plan was to read it aloud at bedtime, but my 8-year-old Catherine swiped Wonder as soon she saw it. She read a few sentences and was hooked. After years of battles about the importance of reading, our bedtime routine shifted from tear-filled arguments to bliss. While she once insisted, "Reading is hard! I hate reading!" she now begs, "Can I stay up late to read more!?"

Catherine's reading transformation was one really big parenting win. To savor this victory, I headed back to Barnes&Noble and picked up a Wonder Wall Calendar. She cherishes the inspiring quotes on her wall, and we talk at night about quotes like, "Seek wonder, embrace curiosity, and always act with kindness." Or as the Dalai Lama is quoted, "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." I also grabbed We are All Wonders, the version for younger readers that William now loves to read at night.

This positive psychology enthusiast/mom loves that the themes of empathy, compassion, friendship, and perseverance are swirling through her children's minds. I could analyze the endless examples of the theories I study at work, but all you need to know is Wonder carries clear positive messages about choosing kindness, and appreciating everyone for who they are (rather than what they look like).

In a judgmental world that demands perfection, these are among the many important values we must instill in our children.

A Universal Theme of Hope

Catherine has been begging me to see Wonder on the big screen, so when Eddie took the boys to a birthday party last weekend, we went with Rose in tow.

I was struck hard by a poignant scene in which mom Isabel (Julia Roberts), looks at her daughter Via (Isabela Vidovic), who was brushed aside for a child with special needs. Isabel seems to notice Via for the fist time in the years, and reaches out to rekindle the connection that was lost in Auggie's care .

With Rose in my lap and tears streaming down my cheeks, I peered over at Catherine, the girl I left behind the moment William was injured. At four years old, she was brushed aside for the needs of William, and then newborn Henry who needed surgery.

Through the years we recovered from this traumatic experience and suffered other losses, I demanded she grow up too fast. No, I didn't hug her enough. Many occasions, I should have been more patient with her. Sadly, there are too many times I simply didn't see her. I know my blind determination to fix her brothers and heal my own heart often left her in the dark.

Amplifying my guilt was the realization that I bought Wonder with William in mind. I assumed he would relate to Auggie. But Catherine stepped in to claim a connection to a story that breeds compassion for those who feel slighted, different, lost, or broken.

Then I think, What child doesn't feel this way at some point over something?

Or, What mom doesn't feel like she has failed on any given day?

These questions might drive home my point about why this movie is a must-see. Wonder will speak to all of us in different ways, but what it all boils down to is kindness, love, empathy, forgiveness, self-compassion. At least, these are a few of the positive emotions woven into a story that proves powerful enough to inspire healing and kindle hope.