At ten years old, August is on the brink of adolescence. Because he's so young and because he has an usually close relationship with his parents due to his medical condition, he begins the novel relying heavily on his parents for support and guidance. As August matures over the course of the novel and spends more time in the company of other kids his own age, however, he gradually begins to desire more independence. Though the novel is careful to show that children and teens absolutely do still need their parents, regardless of how much they may desire independence, Wonder also shows that this tension between need and independence inevitably leads to conflicts between children and their parents. The novel ultimately suggests that these conflicts usually abate as children grow, begin to realize their own complexity, and thereby become better able to see their parents and the adults around them as whole, interesting people, not just as parent figures.
Throughout the novel, August demonstrates an acute awareness of his liminal state between child and teenager. He notes several instances when he "acts like a baby" and is fully aware of doing so (sometimes on purpose with an agenda), while he also desires a degree of independence at times that's clearly at odds with his childish actions. Though Via is much older and far more independent than her younger brother, she too confides in the reader that she still desires love and attention from her parents, even as she also wants to be allowed to ride the subway by herself. When Mom allows her to stay home one day, Via admits that she's thrilled to get to spend a day alone with her mother—and she's extremely disappointed when Mom's attention is redirected to August before their day alone can even begin. Taken together, the mirrored thoughts of Via and August illustrate how teens are caught between desiring autonomy and independence and wanting to still be treated and cared for like children. This also reinforces that the process of growing up isn't necessarily a linear one—it's marked by steps forward and backward as teens experiment with how and where they fit into their families and communities.
At the beginning of the novel, August is terrified of being made to grow up and attend school—he sees growing up as entering into a world where he'll be left entirely on his own to navigate life, something that makes him cling even more tightly to his relationships with his parents. As the school year progresses, however, August begins to realize that growing up doesn't mean that he'll never be able to receive the care he initially conceptualized as childish. Though Mom and August initially decide that August should take Baboo, a beloved stuffed animal, on the class camping trip for comfort, August makes the mature decision to surreptitiously leave Baboo for Mom to snuggle in case she misses August. By doing this, August demonstrates an understanding that adults are just as desirous of comfort and care as children are—and further, that by behaving in a mature way, he even has the power to help Mom feel better, something that in turn makes him feel better.
The final indicator that August has come of age is his reaction when Dad finally confides in him that he actually threw away August's beloved space helmet in an effort to force August into growing up. Though August is initially very angry at Dad for doing this, after a few minutes he reasons that it was probably the right thing to do. This admission does two things. First, it shows that being an adult does mean having to make difficult decisions and having to act alone—two things that August was deathly afraid of at the beginning of the novel—but it also shows that those adult moments and actions can in turn lead to positive outcomes. As a result of Dad's confidence, August is able to feel more adult, especially since Dad asks that August not share this information with Mom. This allows August to understand that while adulthood certainly comes with a great deal of responsibility, the more adult relationships he develops with his parents over the course of the novel can ultimately be more fulfilling than relationships in which he's treated only as a child in need of protection.
Independence and Growing Up ThemeTracker
Independence and Growing Up Quotes in Wonder
What's cool about really little kids is that they don't say stuff to try to hurt your feelings, even though sometimes they do say stuff that hurts your feelings. But they don't actually know what they're saying. Big kids, though: they know what they're saying.
After you've seen someone else going through that, it feels kind of crazy to complain over not getting the toy you had asked for, or your mom missing a school play. I knew this even when I was six years old.
"I love Auggie very, very much," she said softly […] "But he has many angels looking out for him already, Via. And I want you to know that you have me looking out for you."
"Okay, that's fair," I said. "But it's not a contest about whose days suck the most, Auggie. The point is we all have to put up with the bad days. Now, unless you want to be treated like a baby the rest of your life, or like a kid with special needs, you just have to suck it up and go."
he seems too small to be walking around by himself, somehow. then i think how i was that young when i was taking the subway by myself. way too young. i'm going to be an overprotective dad someday, i know it. my kids are going to know i care.
it's just been so nice being in a new school where nobody knows about him, you know? nobody's whispering about it behind my back […] but if he comes to the play, then everyone will talk about it, everyone will know […].
"Auggie!" Mom yelled. "That's not true!"
"Stop lying to me, Mom!" I shrieked. "Stop treating me like a baby! I'm not retarded! I know what's going on!"
I don't even know how I got so mad. I wasn't really mad at the beginning of dinner. I wasn't even sad. But then all of a sudden it all kind of just exploded out of me. I knew Via didn't want me to go to her stupid play. And I knew why.
So I went to my bed and put on my pajamas without anyone telling me to and put the night-light on and turned the light off and crawled into the little mountain of stuffed animals I had left on my bed earlier.
"Daddy, can you please not call me Auggie Doggie anymore?" I whispered in Dad's ear.
Dad smiled and nodded and gave me a thumbs-up.
I knew right then and there that I was going to like the play. It wasn't like other school plays I've been to, like The Wizard of Oz or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. No, this was grown-up seeming, and I felt smart sitting there watching it.
We knew we were being mean, but it was easier to ice her out if we pretended she had done something to us. The truth is she hadn't changed at all: we had. We'd become these other people, and she was still the person she'd always been. That annoyed me so much and I didn't know why.