“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a genetic defect that changed his face. And this year he’s starting grade five at a new school. He’s nervous, but excited, too. His family are petrified.

Each chapter we hear alternatively from Auggie himself, his family, his new classmates (some of whom are bullies), and his teachers. None of them approach Auggie in the same way; for each of them he is a challenge, and for some a turning point.

Their narratives explore family ups and downs held together by the healthy elasticity of forgiving love, philosophical musings on whether the universe was unkind to Auggie Pullman (what a chapter!), clear-sighted and courageous friendship set alongside mistakes and mendings, and finally wisdom that pours into the heart the infinite elixir of love.

It is heart-warming, to say the least. And it’s been criticised for emotional manipulation, over-sentimentality and being ‘made for TV’.

Would it be more ‘true to life’ if it were an embittered, self-pitying lament, either from Auggie or his family and friends? I don’t think so; the families I know who have children with disabilities seem more susceptible to laughter than most. And even if it were statistically more realistic for the situation to be hard rather than happy, that would call for a message of hope and humanity to be affirmed even more.

Some say it is not deep enough. And yet this book, aimed at fourth and fifth graders, has held the interest of tens of thousands of adults who have not been able to put it down, many of whom have reached the end only to start again at the beginning.

I cried many times, but there’s one line in particular that continues to dazzle me, “He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.” One could ponder this for hours.

True, bullies may not be changed by reading this book. But reading it will plant a seed for human understanding, for greatness, that—except for this book—would probably not be there at all.

The author wrote a note of thanks to all the “Auggies” whose stories inspired her to write this book. She admits to crying while writing it, and her seven year old son applauded when they finished reading it together. This is a person I would like to know.

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Clare Cannon is the editor of www.GoodReadingGuide.com and the manager of Portico Books in Sydney.

Clare Cannon lives in Sydney where she is editor of The Good Reading Guide and manager of Portico Books,...