Don’t expect to see Ashley Levi’s cheerful, smiling face in Nashville too much this summer. She and the kids will be in Charlevoix, Michigan! It’s possibly her favorite spot in the world – a “simple little town in northern Michigan with a Main Street, Farmer’s Market, marina, and clock tower. A horn blows daily at noon and 9:30 pm curfew. In the summertime, the sun sets at 9:30 pm. We relax and play from sunup to sundown. So I tell my children that ‘if you hear the horn blow, that means it’s time to come home!’ I read, walk, cook, sun, garden, sail and write while we’re in Charlevoix. Did I mention that I’m restoring a summer cottage that dates back to 1898? Finally, after a 3-year rewiring project, I can RELAX when I blow dry my hair!” Ashley and Joe know they’re in the sweet spot with the three children, ages 11, 9, and 7; they don’t want to miss any moment of the fun in “the non-complicated years of childhood.” Enjoy these days, Ashley! They do come to an end, and things can get curvy ’round the bend.
Today, Ashley shares her thoughts on a book loved by children and grown-ups alike – Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.
From Ashley: I’m embarrassed to say that when it comes to birthday presents, I am THAT mom who enthusiastically gives a book. No matter the age, I think a book is best. It’s even better when it’s a subject loved by or potentially enjoyed by the reader recipient. (My kids cringe when they bound out of the car primed for Pump it Up or paintball, only to be handed their friend’s gift – obviously a book!) “Awwwww, come on Mom! He/she doesn’t want a book!” So, when I asked the clerk at Parnassus Books about a good read for an 11 and 12 year-old, she quickly thrust Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, into my hands. I was in a rush to wrap and deliver it to the birthday girls and I was on my way. I didn’t even read the inside of the jacket. But I knew the book was something when I watched my 12-year-old niece unwrap it and light up with delight! When do you ever get that reaction from a tween receiving a book for a birthday present?! Raising the book high in the air, she exclaimed, “I’ve been on the check-out list for this book at school! Thanks, Aunt Ashley!!” Upon delivery of the same gift to another niece (born on the same day), the reaction was every bit the same. Seems this Wonder is making a name for itself among the adolescents, and there’s a buzz coming from the book that sounds totally different from anything plugged-in or battery-packed. It’s the sound of honest adolescence in all its awkward, compassionate, stressful, loyal, and loving glory. Welcome to the “wonder” of the teenage brain and wonderful emotions of adolescence.
It only took me one chapter to race out and get a copy of Wonder for my 10-year-old son. I knew immediately that it would be a part of his summer reading and mine. Although it seems counterintuitive, I don’t want to share too much about the book in this review. I experienced Wonder without any knowledge or notions about the story. In fact, my range of emotions and my reaction to the story was heightened because I knew nothing about what was going to happen next. Wonder is a story about August (Auggie) Pullman, a rising fifth grader at Beecher Prep. Auggie was born with a facial deformity that until now has kept him homeschooled and in hospitals. Auggie’s story is so much more than his appearance and the journey into middle school. Wonder generously includes perspective from Auggie’s MVP’s. You’ll understand Auggie better after hearing from his sister, peers, fifth graders and teenagers. All are the voices of adolescence as it exists today. Suffice it to say that I was sucked in to the modern world of adolescence.
Adolescence scares me to death. I realize that kids today and the kind of trouble they cook up is far scarier than the kind of trouble being cooked up when I was a teenager. I get ill when I think about my own children coping with the pressures of adolescence, awkward appearances, expectations, school, relationships, disappointment and the whole mess of it all. Adolescence sucks. There’s just no getting around it. Even in the best of circumstances, it’s not easy being a teenager. How on earth do Auggie and the people who love him most make it through? I can’t imagine. I can only wonder.
God knew what he was doing when he gave me a boy. In fact, I somewhat expected my firstborn to be a boy! Coming from a family of five females and an outnumbered father, I knew nothing about raising a boy. I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants and relying entirely on my husband to help me navigate the ever-growing tank of testosterone in my son. And now I’ve met Auggie. It’s almost like he’s invited me into his head or he’s holding my hand. He’s telling me exactly what he feels, what he’s thinking, or how he understands the world we all share. It’s as if he’s giving the reader a “heads up” on the encounters and experiences that are sure to show up in middle school. A “here’s-how-to-get-ready” and “here’s-how-to-handle” for every awkward situation.
Wonder is about extraordinary courage, heart, humor, resilience, and love. It reminds us that despite appearances, we are all the same. I found myself hiding in the cottage to read and savor every chapter. Once I laughed SO hard that I actually stood up and looked out the window to see if the neighbors heard me. Once I sobbed so hard that I actually stood up and looked out the window to see if the neighbors were running to help me. My reactions to Auggie’s story were raw. Wonder has touched my heart and soul. I feel like I understand today’s teenagers a little more and I’m not so pessimistic. Auggie has made me optimistic for my children in their own adolescent years ahead. My favorite Auggieism provides all the hope I need. He states, “I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.” Damn straight. I remember closing the book and thinking to myself, “It’s gonna be ok…”