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The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

R.J. Palacio and Stephen Chbosky Discuss ‘Wonder’

After years of designing book jackets, R.J. Palacio released her own debut novel, “Wonder,” in 2012, with it quickly becoming a New York Times Bestseller. Now, just five years later, the film adaptation has hit the big screen. “Wonder” releases in theaters on Nov 17.

“Wonder” tells the charming, heartwarming story of Auggie Pullman, a fifth-grader with craniofacial differences, as he navigates his first year at a real school. The story switches between four perspectives  — Auggie, his sister Via, Auggie’s friend Jack Will, and Via’s friend Miranda — allowing viewers to see not only Auggie’s experience, but its effect on those around him.

Acclaimed author Stephen Chbosky directed the film adaptation of the novel. Chbosky wrote the 1999 novel “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and also adapted and directed the 2012 film of the same name.

On Nov. 9, The Hoya sat down with Chbosky and Palacio to discuss their adaptation of “Wonder” and the ways in which the story changed during its transition to the screen.

When writing “Wonder,” did you imagine it would become a film? Mr. Chbosky, what compelled you to be part of this project?

Palacio: When I was writing it, I honestly didn’t think it would ever be turned into a movie, even though I thought it would make a great movie because I tend to write very cinematically. I like to describe the scene and make the dialogue sound normal, and I think of lighting and details. I just didn’t think that anybody would want to bring it to fruition, so while I was writing, I wasn’t writing with a movie in mind.

Chbosky: In terms of what drew me to this project, I just thought that when I read the book, especially when the point of view shifted from Auggie to Via, it was a story that I was very touched by. I thought the book was one of the most important and beautifully written books for children in a long time, in decades. I genuinely believe that this book will be taught in schools for the next hundred years, so I jumped at the chance.

How did you make the decision to divide the novel into different perspectives, and was that something that you always knew you wanted to translate onto the screen?

Palacio: I got really curious about what motivated other characters. I thought that maybe the best way to Auggie’s story is to leave his head and see the impact that he has on the people around him. That’s how the view shifts started. Then to me it was like telling Auggie’s story in fifth grade: It starts at the beginning of fifth grade, it ends at the end of fifth grade, but it was almost like a relay race, where the story was the baton that every character would then take to the finish line. One by one, they’d pass it off and progress the story.

Chbosky: I knew I had to preserve it. I thought that it was the true genius of the book because what it does — and people don’t really talk about it from this point of view — is it forces empathy. If you show what someone else is feeling so eloquently, you can’t help but feel sympathy or empathy for that person.

What demographic were you hoping to influence most with the novel — was it the children with differences, children who want to know how to interact with them, or the adults raising these children?

Palacio: I was definitely writing for fifth graders. My older son had just finished fifth grade and as a parent watching your kid go to middle school for the first time, you don’t need to have a kid that looks like Auggie Pullman to feel like you’re sending your child off like a lamb to the slaughter. I feel great tenderness for that particular time in a person’s life because you can feel such raw emotion, because they’re just trying to figure it out.

Do you think that there are aspects of the story that changed or were given more or less weight in the novel as opposed to in the film?

Palacio: Absolutely, and by necessity, I think. The book tells Auggie’s story through and through but I think to make a movie that does have that wider appeal, Stephen very deftly and beautifully brought a lot of other aspects of the characters to light, where in the book we never really know what’s going on with [Auggie’s parents] Isabel and Nate. We can kind of intuit, but they don’t have their own chapters, so Stephen actually wrote people.

Chbosky: When Jack Will and [the bully] Julian fight in the book, it’s one punch, and Julian’s tooth comes out, but that was followed up an incredible piece — all the emails back and forth that show the school in this little bit of a controversy. I knew that we didn’t have enough time for that [in the film] but I wanted to convey the spirit of that sequence that I loved so much, so I thought, what if we have the fight in slow motion and we heard Jack Will’s letter of apology over the violence, wouldn’t that be interesting?

Could you talk a little bit about your process and trying to convey the nuances of writing into film?

Chbosky: I directed the movie as a fan of the book, and most of my experience and most of my practice and skill sets are in trying to find a way to say it as succinctly as possible. Much of it is in the casting, or choosing the picture that’s worth a thousand words, that kind of thing.

“Wonder” will be released in theaters Nov. 17.

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