Delightful Reads New And Old

Tissue Alert:  Tears of laughter, joy, sadness, and even anger may result from the reading of Wonder (2012) by R. J. Palacio.  Along with the alert, I can also guarantee you will fall in love with 10-year-old August Pullman.

Wonder opens with Auggie explaining to the reader how he does all the things that ordinary kids his age enjoy, such as bike riding and playing video games.  But, Auggie was born with a rare facial disfigurement that regular kids do not.  “I won’t describe what I look like.  Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

Auggie is very smart, displays a positive attitude, has a fun sense of humor—all the things that add up to a great, all-around kid.  It is his face that stops others outside his family from getting to know him.

He is facing his first day of school as a 5th grader having been home schooled.  Auggie has to learn about entering a new school where he does not know anyone, well except for the three kids the principal selected to walk his around the building prior to opening day.

Try to think back to a time you were the new kid at school or entered boot camp or began a new job.  Any new situation can be daunting.  Put yourself in Auggie’s shoes.  It was a rough day for this brave guy.

Auggie is not the only narrator of Wonder.  Via (Olivia), Auggie’s sister gives the reader a feel of what it is like to have a little brother who is the center of the family’s universe.  Via also describes how she has dealt with Auggie, her friends and her parents.

Other narrators are: Jack, who is assigned to be Auggie’s science partner, and Summer.  Justin, Olivia’s boyfriend and Miranda who was Olivia’s best friend.  Through these voices the author did a very nice job of showing the impact of Auggie’s life at home and in school.  It allows the reader to see and understand how others feel about Auggie.

I also felt Palacio created very realistic characters.  Having spent a large portion of 25 years with middle school and high school kids, I have to say she was spot on.  Definitely had no trouble recalling the Jacks, the Julians, et al that passed through the halls where I taught.

Wonder was written as a young adult novel.  I personally feel every adult should read and meet the courageous, and my hero, August Pullman.

As an added note, the movie version of Wonder is worth seeing.  The young actors did a great job.  But, the book is way better.  No surprise there.  I am including a touching interview that aired on 20/20 for those of you interested:

I have no clever way to segue into this next novel so the best way I can do this is just to say, “Do I have an oldie, but a goodie for you to read, or reread…Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie.

If you like a good murder mystery with the investigation being headed up by a very capable detective, then this classic is for you.  However, if you prefer blood and guts with tons of action, maybe this title is not your cup of tea.

Ever since the most recent movie version of Murder on the Orient Express has come out, I thought I should actually read this mystery.  Glad I did.  When you first meet investigator Hercules Poirot, he is ‘muffled up to his ears” and the only part of him showing is the tip of his nose and his upward curled mustache.

(Hint: Think of Murder on the Orient Express as a puzzle or a game of Clue.  The reader is given all the same info as Poirot.)

Poirot’s planned journey changes course when he receives word he must return to London immediately.  He is to board the Simplon-Orient Express at 9pm, assured the train will not be crowded and he will be assigned a 1st class sleeper. As he orders dinner, M. Bouc, the director of the train company and an old friend, also happens to be traveling the same train, greets Poirot.

As it turns out, the train is full which is highly unusual during the winter.  Sleeping arrangements are figured out.  The three-day journey across Europe finally gets underway.

The next morning, as Poirot is having an early breakfast in the luncheon car, the other train passengers begin filing for their morning meal.  He and M. Bouc notice that of the 13 people who have joined them, all are of different nationalities, different ages, and appear from different class of society.

Poirot begins to study them, determining what he might based on their dress, mannerisms, speech.  M. Bouc adds what he knows about the passengers.

The train hits a snowdrift the next day and is stuck.  It could be days before the train continues on its journey.  It is at breakfast that morning Poirot is informed of a passenger’s death.  The train physician, Dr. Constantine, asks Poirot to investigate the murder.

Now, if you seen any of the movie versions of this classic tale, you already know who the murderer is.  I had not, so it all remained a mystery to me.  Just when I thought I had solved the case, a twist was thrown into the mix and my theory went out the window.  I should have taken better notes.

One must remember this was all written before electronic devices were part the everyday scene.  The crime was solved by asking questions, making observations, looking for clues, and interviewing the passengers.

Murder on the Orient Express is a real gem, with interesting characters whose backgrounds are diverse.  It is not action-filled but quiet and methodical.  If you have not read this classic, give it a try.  See if you come to the same conclusion as Hercules Poirot.



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