For August Pullman, family is a source of comfort, emotional support, and understanding. His facial deformities make it difficult for him to connect with people outside his extended family, so he leans heavily on his parents and his sister during his first year at Beecher Prep. His sister Via calls him the sun of their little galaxy, where everyone orbits around him like planets. Via's feelings of resentment and frustration are evident in this statement. She feels neglected by her parents and is forced to grow up quickly and take care of herself. At the same time, she loves August deeply, and she understands that his medical condition requires almost full-time attention from their parents. It's obvious that Via and August have very ideas about what "family" means. Palacio compares the Pullmans to several other families in the novel. Miranda and Justin, both children of divorce, are amazed by how loving and supportive the Pullmans are compared to their own families. Summer also comes from a broken home, her father having died years before. Julian's family, on the other hand, is still intact, if morally bankrupt. His mother, a rich, well-connected woman, launches a campaign to force August out of Beecher Prep, arguing that his "special needs" put too much pressure on the other students in school. Her shallow and insufferable personality is immediately apparent from the emails she sends about this. Palacio uses Julian's family, the Albans, to underscore just how perfect the Pullmans are. Their ability to overcome adversity makes them the ideal family.
Friendship is almost as important to August as family. When his childhood best friend, Christopher, moves from New York City to the suburbs, he's upset and alone. He doesn't have many friends, and he doesn't expect to make any when he enrolls at Beecher Prep. Perhaps this is why he puts so much weight on his budding friendship with Jack. August understandably assumes that Jack—who smiles at him during the tour, sits next to him in class, and walks with him in the halls—is his friend. When he overhears Jack saying otherwise, August is so devastated that he cries in the bathroom and never wants to go to school again. His sister has to talk him into going back after Halloween. In the weeks between this incident and winter break, August's only friend is Summer, who sits with him at lunch. Summer is the one who clues Jack in to the fact that August overheard his conversation with Julian, and it's Summer's intervention here that allows the boys to eventually reconcile. Friendship is both a powerful force of good and a source of some stress and confusion. It can also, as with Julian and his friends, result in peer pressure, which has a negative impact on everyone involved.
August Pullman was born with severe birth defects that have left him disfigured. While introducing himself to the reader, August says, "I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Instead of describing August's facial deformities in the first chapter, Palacio gives readers time to get to know August as a person, leaving them to infer his appearance from strangers' reactions to him. Palacio reserves a physical description of August until Chapter 35, when his sister Via paints an unflattering portrait of him: his eyes are crooked and bulge out of his eye sockets; his nose is a blob; his ears look like cauliflower florets; and he has no cheekbones, so his face sags. He has already undergone several cosmetic surgeries by this time, which have at least corrected his cleft palate and made it possible for him to eat without assistance. By the time readers learn all this about August, however, they know what a kind, intelligent little boy he is and are able to empathize better with him and his family. Like August, readers learn a lot about other people from their first reaction to him. Julian asks if August is a burn victim, so we know Julian is a shallow, hateful person. On the other hand, Summer immediately reaches out to August, imagining how she would feel in his shoes. In effect, the quality of one's character is determined by one's ability to see past August's appearance and recognize the thinking, feeling person underneath.
Palacio introduces the theme of kindness in Chapter 17. Mr. Browne, August's English teacher, likes giving the class precepts to think about every month. The first one he writes on the board is: "When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind." It's unclear if Mr. Browne had this precept picked out in advance or if he made it up upon seeing August. Regardless, kindness becomes one of the central themes of the novel. Its characters can be divided into one of two groups: those who treat August with kindness and those who don't. Julian falls into the latter group, becoming the antagonist of the novel. Other characters aren't so easily categorized, however. Charlotte and the other girls, for instance, never bully August, but they decide to remain neutral during the war with Julian. Jack is at first the most difficult character to categorize. He betrays August and laughs at him behind his back, but he later apologizes for his actions and recognizes that he does want to be friends with August. In the course of the novel, Jack learns how to treat August with kindness, becoming a better person in the process.
Education is a secondary theme in Wonder. While it's true that the novel follows August through his first year of school, education itself plays little role in the novel, serving instead as a plot device that moves the narrative forward. Enrolling at Beecher Prep after years of homeschooling forces August to interact with strangers and find his way in the world. Beecher Prep, though a fine institution, acts as little more than a setting for the events of the novel, bringing together students, teachers, bullies, friends, and Halloween costumes in one convenient place.
(The entire section is 1007 words.)