I had lunch with a friend on Friday and we got to talking about infusing more kindness into the world and she shared how she had just finished a book called WONDER by RJ Palacio and how inspiring it was. WONDER tells the story of August “Auggie” Pullman, a boy with facial differences from Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS) who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time. As we discussed the book and Auggie’s experience adapting along with those around him, I was hooked and began putting a note about it in my phone before my friend mentioned that she actually had the book in her car and would lend it to me. I don’t read as often as I should but am currently reading two other books right now: Fish in a Tree and Adult Children of Alcoholics – we’ll save that for another blog – but I was eager to add this to my list. My friend didn’t seem to need it back any time soon so I could take my time.
Walking back to the office, I thought about the book a lot. The social dynamics of the book intrigued me. How would Auggie fit into his school? My friend shared how Auggie struggled with his appearance, hated standing out, and felt like a freak – little did she know how relatable that was. Relating to his struggle broke my heart. People can be cruel and middle school can be the worst of it. I hoped for the happy ending where everyone stopped judging the book by his cover and started appreciating him for his heart. As difficult as these situations can be, I am a sucker for a good teachable moment and knowing that people are uplifted. In the LGBT community, I think of the It Gets Better Project and love the amazing stories that come through that and the many people who have fought through their struggles and have found that it does truly get better. That’s what I wanted from this book – another opportunity to believe in the good of humanity. I thought about the other two books I had at home and was determined to get through it.
I got home from work and had starred a blog that a friend of my had shared. The author wrote about her gender non-conforming son who had been bullied. Again, my heart broke for this child as their story was told in this blog and highlighted how former best friends were part of the bullying – one who had recently told them that they couldn’t be friends anymore because her family didn’t believe in homosexuality. I read more of her blog posts and came across a section where she also described her child as a wonder and went on to share about how she had gotten that from the book. I felt like it was an incredible sign – I needed to start reading it tonight.
Spoiler – the book was incredible. (There are some spoilers below for both the book and the movie) If you are looking for a good feel good story, you need to check it out. If movies are more your thing, they did a wonderful adaption starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson that is available at your local Red Box now! I read 200 pages in one sitting before I finally went to sleep around 12:30 last night. Woke up this morning, went to the gym, and came home and finished the last 100 pages – by far the quickest I have ever been through a book – ran some errands and stopped to Red Box the movie which I just finished before starting the blog. The book just spoke to me and though different, some of Auggie’s feeling were relatable. I cried multiple times at the passages – sometimes because my heart broke for Auggie, but others because they were just too real to me. I could not put the book down. I needed this book and then along came a sign that really struck.
Just months ago I was in a dark spot. Driving home after an Ashlee night a few months back “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera came on the radio. It was such an empowering moment and almost a turning point of truly embracing and appreciating myself as Ashlee. I belong here and I am worth it. This song has become an anthem for me and a great way to build me back up when I am having gender identity issues – and now here it is in this book. I hope that Auggie – and others struggling – can find that same sense of peace in these lyrics. We are all beautiful for who we are. We are the best and most polished versions of ourselves. We all have our place on this earth and we can each make it a better place. Unfortunately, this world can be cruel and this is a powerful reminder to not let those words take you down. I got such a great feeling in seeing this quote. It was a strong reminder of my own battles, my own journey, the small wins that I’ve gotten along the way. I’m finally taking control. It DID get better.
Like Auggie, I can continue to work through my insecurities, battle my own self doubt, and move towards a happy ending. I often appreciate being a positive face for the transgender community and I hope that I can be a part of those teachable moments for people. I have been lucky to feel like I’ve had positive experiences while out in the “real world.” People are genuinely kind to me and seem to appreciate that I have the confidence to be my truest self. In many instances, I do blend right in when people aren’t paying attention but if they are, they see a polite and respectful woman and hopefully some negative perceptions can change. I may be different and that’s ok but it’s pretty cool to have the people who do identify me as different treat me no different from if they hadn’t.
One of the issues I did have with the book was the entitled attitude of the privileged child in the book and the mother’s response as well. At one point, the mother works to photoshop Auggie out of the class picture so that it is more appropriate for her people. She further pushes the school board to reexamine Auggie’s admission saying that the school is not an ‘Inclusion School’ and wondering if a child that was previously homeschooled earned their spot – but make no mistake, she was being a judgy jackass.
Unfortunately, this is where the crap starts and it is disgusting that we are still here. Hate is not in us – we learn that. Many times we learn it from our parents and those people that are supposed to love us the most and show us the way. We need to be better here and do a better job to educate our young people and teach love and acceptance. This mother was a bully and her son ended up being the biggest problem child in the book and was terrible just because Auggie was a little different. The book was fantastic and the movie was great. We got the feel good moment where the kids realized that Auggie was not as different as they thought he was and they could accept him for the smart, funny, and dynamic kid he was. Allowing that made him shine and know that he had found a home.
But as great as these feel good stories are, why does it take so long? Why does someone like Auggie have to go through such chaos to get to those points? For all the great happy endings there are so many sad stories of bullying that leave lasting scars for years. We cannot allow it to continue. We need to be better and we need to work with our young people to teach them to choose the love over kindness. We all have our battles but the more we lift each other up the happier and better off we’ll all be. If you’re looking for some inspiration or just want to check out a feel good story, this book/movie has it all. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.