Dear Mrs. R.J. Palacio,

I am writing to you because your book, Wonder, has changed my life, and I wanted to let you know how it impacted me. Before I read your book, if I saw someone with a disability, I would stare at them. It wasn’t because I was mean or insensitive. In fact, I think of myself as a kind, empathetic person. It was just that I couldn’t help it. I wanted to know what happened to the person. 

I recall one time when I was younger, my mom took me to the park. I remember seeing a child with Down’s Syndrome, although I didn’t know what that was at the time. Her face and eyes looked different, but she was laughing and smiling, having fun just like the other kids.  I couldn’t stop myself from watching her, staring at her differences.  It wasn’t because I thought she looked ugly but because she was different.  I remember my mom caught me staring at the girl and told me to stop.  She said, “It’s not nice to stare.”  I tried to look away, but I kept glimpsing at her out of the corner of my eye. I think I wanted to understand what it felt like to be her.

Now that I’ve read Wonder, I understand how people with outside differences feel. They feel like any other person on the inside, but it is others who make them feel different.  Your book gave me this insight. Wonder inspired me to treat people the way they want to be treated – just like everyone else. I know that’s the golden rule, but people forget sometimes. While I was reading Wonder, I remember thinking, How can Auggie be so mistreated by others but still act as kind and as caring as he is? For example, on Halloween, Auggie went to school wearing a different costume than he said he would, so his classmates did not know it was him. His classmates, whom he thought were his friends, were talking cruelly about Auggie behind his “back,” or so they thought. But Auggie actually heard the whole thing. Even so, Auggie somehow over looked what his classmates said, and he still treated them like friends.

Your book helped me see that it doesn’t matter what a person looks like; it matters how big of a heart they have. You showed me this in so many ways, but the main way was that you did not go into detail about what Auggie looked like. At first, this frustrated me. I kept thinking and hoping that you would finally describe his face, but you never did.  I read this whole book without a picture of him, with only a minor description of him, without even seeing his face.  How is this fair, I thought?

After a few days of contemplating Wonder, I realized why you did what you did. You wanted readers to realize it doesn’t matter what Auggie or anyone else looks like. It only mattered what his inside – his heart – looked like. That is where our true self is.  I also thought about why I felt the need to see Auggie.  Why was it so important for me to see his face? I discussed this question with my mom.  We talked about how curious it is that we, as humans, want to stare at things that we perceive as “different” or unfortunate. It’s kind of like driving past a car wreck and not being able to look away. You almost can’t stop yourself from looking. I wondered what this meant about who we are as humans.

In the end, I concluded that people want to stare at these differences because they somehow make people feel more “normal.” It makes them feel more fortunate and grateful. It makes them feel better about themselves.  Maybe, that’s why I stared at the little girl in the park. Maybe that’s why I needed to know what Auggie looked like. 

This self-realization bothered me. I had always considered myself accepting and kind, but maybe there was a part of me that still judged and needed other people’s misfortunes to make me feel fortunate. This made me feel sad. Your book helped me realize all of these things. 

The awareness I now have about me and about others has helped me understand not just to accept differences, but to embrace them because those differences make us who we are.  We all have something different about us.  Now when I meet people, I stare at their insides. I try to figure out who they really are. Now, I understand that different doesn’t mean bad or ugly.  At least it doesn’t have to. 

Thank you for writing a book to help people – to help me – understand that it’s what on the inside that counts.

Sincerely,

Haylie Stobaugh

Page last modified: April 4, 2017