Lionsgate Adds R.J. Palacio's 'Wonder' to Its YA Empire, with Skins' Jack Thorne Adapting

Another day, another young adult literary phenom makes its way to the screen. Yes, it would be easy to glibly dismiss today’s news that Lionsgate has hired Jack Thorne, the British playwright and screenwriter behind TV’s “Skins," to adapt R. J. Palacio’s bestselling debut novel, Wonder. But in this case, it would mean overlooking something truly extraordinary.

Wonder is not your average everyday YA novel. There are few heroes in the young adult fiction boom who aren’t introduced as the kind of unremarkable, perpetually underestimated kids whose extraordinary qualities have yet to make themselves known. But from the very first sentence of Wonder, it’s instantly clear that there’s nothing average about ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, the titular boy wonder at the center of Palacio’s deeply moving and mordantly funny bestselling debut novel. The book begins, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

Not only is it refreshing to come across a novel aimed at young readers that doesn’t presume that only the kids who blend into the crowd harbor the secret powers necessary to overcome adversity, this novel makes a point of making the opposite point. As the old saying goes, it’s our differences that make us stronger.

But there is nothing preachy or sanctimonious about Wonder or the pack of middle schoolers who populate its pages. The story follows Auggie, who has undergone many surgeries for his severe facial deformities, as he enters public school for the first time and attempts to navigate his way through that social battleground without being flogged. Fortunately, Auggie has a secret weapon in the form of his solid, supportive, and often silly family. But like most kids his age, all Auggie wants is to disappear into the crowd of wisecracking boys, particularly once he finds himself in the crosshairs of the school bully.

This is the kind of fragile material that requires special handling as it makes its way into theaters. And while Lionsgate is not known for emotionally nuanced takes on adolescence that don’t involve vampires or sadistic teen death matches, producers David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman are the team behind some creatively audacious filmmaking, including “The Fighter” and “The Muppets.”

The closest Hollywood has come to making a film like this was 1985’s “Mask,” which starred a young Eric Stoltz as a facially deformed teenager who builds a sense of belonging among his mother’s biker gang friends. While "Mask" took place primarily in the adult world and attracted a similar demo of moviegoers, with “Wonder,” the challenge (and mandate, really) will be to authentically capture the social dynamics of today’s tweens within a story that will also engage their parents.

  • Just how the film adaptation of "Wonder" makes it to the screen will determine its success or failure. Consider all of the YA novels that have become hits in recent years. Then list those that have been successfully adapted to the screen. I don't consider the Twilight saga YA, though the poor writing might make it pre-K fare. But, even if you consider it YA fare the only other successful YA books (in recent years) to become successful on the screen is the Hunger Games and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Others have tanked. Add to this the subject matter might make for a hit for the novel, but might not find an audience as a screen adaptation. It's certainly not bad news that it's being made into a film as opposed to the many dystopian novels that will air this year, mostly probably doomed to failure or mediocrity, but the proof will be in what is actually released.

  • Cole

    I read this with my teacher mrs.cullen at jbm I loved the book I feel like I'd be like summer