The protagonist, August "Auggie" Pullman, begins by explaining that he knows he is not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. He was born with a facial deformity; consequently, other people always stare at him and make faces. His parents and his big sister Via always defend him, but he has gotten used to uncomfortable reactions by now. Auggie had three really good friends -- Christopher, Zachary, and Alex -- but Christopher moved away and seldom meets up with Auggie, and Zachary and Alex have made new friends.
Auggie is just about to start fifth grade -- his first time at a regular school because his mother has always home-schooled him. At first, Auggie resists the idea of going to a real school; his Dad sides with him, worried that Auggie is not ready and remarking that he doesn't want to send Auggie off like a "lamb to the slaughter," but Auggie's Mom insists that her son needs to learn more than she alone can teach him. She met with the school's principal, Mr. Tushman, and they secretly gave Auggie an IQ test to get him admitted to the school. It turns out that Auggie is very smart and passes the test with flying colors.
Mom takes Auggie to the school to meet Mr. Tushman; they also encounter Mrs. Garcia, the office aide. Mr. Tushman then introduces Auggie to three kids who will be in his grade at Beecher Prep Middle School: Jack Will, Julian, and Charlotte. These students take Auggie on a tour of the school, showing him where he will have homeroom. Julian asks what happened to Auggie's face; Charlotte scolds Julian for being rude, and Jack defends Auggie as well. When he gets home, Auggie tells Mom how the tour went. Mom is shocked that Julian asked about Auggie's face, and says that Auggie does not have to go to school; Auggie realizes, though, that he actually does want to go.
The first day of school comes and Auggie goes straight to his homeroom, keeping his head down so that the other kids cannot look at him. Jack and Charlotte greet him; Julian ignores him. Auggie watches the teacher, Ms. Petosa, hesitate just a moment when she first sees his face. All of the students in the homeroom introduce themselves; when it's Auggie's turn, Julian asks if the braid in the back of his head is a Padawan braid. Auggie is obsessed with all things Star Wars. He tells Julian that his favorite character is Jango Fett, and Julian asks how Auggie feels about Darth Sidious. This initially seems like a harmless question, but Auggie remembers that Darth Sidious is a character whose face becomes deformed.
In English class, Mr. Browne introduces the fifth-graders to the idea of precepts -- rules and mottoes about extremely important things. The students will have a new precept from Mr. Browne every month. September's is "When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind." Mr. Browne has each of the students designate a section in his or her notebook to write all the precepts down, and says that many of his students write their own precepts over the summer and send them back to him.
Lunch is a challenge; Auggie does not know whom to sit with, so he sits alone. Surprisingly, though, a girl named Summer comes over to sit with him. They notice the similarity in their "summery" names, and joke that they could set aside a "summer only" lunch table, musing over whose names are summery enough to be allowed access.
When he gets home from school that day, Auggie tells his mother that his experience was not so bad. That night, he cuts off the Padawan braid. Dad is pleased with this decision, and refers to Auggie by his nickname, "Auggie Doggie." Mom comes to tuck Auggie in, and reads him a few pages from The Hobbit. Auggie starts to cry, and asks why he has to be so ugly.
Auggie makes it through September, hanging out a lot with Jack Will, who has become his closest friend. For Auggie's birthday on October 10th, Auggie's family plans a bowling party and invites his entire homeroom plus Summer, not wanting to exclude anyone. Only a few kids come, but Auggie has a great time with his friends and family. Unfortunately, at school, Auggie has noticed that people make a point of not touching him. He assumes that what is going on is like the "Cheese Touch" from Diary of a Wimpy Kid and does not feel good about the situation.
Halloween approaches, and Auggie decides to be Boba Fett from Star Wars. He loves Halloween, because he can wear a mask and pretend that he is not who he is; in fact, he used to wear an astronaut helmet almost everywhere he went until he lost it. Auggie's Mom works hard to make the costume, but at the last minute Auggie decides it will be easier to put on the Bleeding Scream costume he wore the previous year instead and goes to school in that.
The day starts off great: because nobody can recognize Auggie, nobody stares at his face. Then, though, Auggie gets to homeroom and overhears a conversation that Julian and some other kids are having. They are making fun of the way Auggie looks; one particular boy dressed as a mummy keeps saying horrible things. He says that he only hangs out with Auggie because Tushman asked him to at the beginning of the year, and that he thinks he would kill himself if he looked like Auggie. Auggie realizes that the speaker is Jack and, crushed, runs from the room. He fakes an illness and his Mom comes to pick him up from school; once home, he swears to himself that he will never go back to school again.
The first section of the novel, written from Auggie's perspective, introduces us to the major characters in the book. We meet Auggie himself, along with his family and the other kids who will feature regularly in the story. We also get a sense of the main conflict in Wonder: Auggie will be faced with the challenge of fitting in at a new school where he is an outsider primarily because of the way he looks.
Even early on, Palacio outlines the theme of surmounting obstacles and showing courage that will permeate this novel. Auggie will constantly have to face hardships that most children do not have to confront. He will have to show great resolve and initiative in going to a real school and interacting with children who are not always kind to him. It is difficult to achieve this level of bravery, but right from the start Palacio establishes such bravery as one of Auggie's principal qualities.
Because this section is written from the point of view of Auggie himself, it provides an important insider's look into the struggles of living with a facial deformity. Palacio knows that most readers who will pick up her book do not suffer from Auggie's rare condition; consequently, it is essential that she be able to effectively convey Auggie's reality to people who have never really experienced anything like it. Immediately, she makes it clear that Auggie is a normal, smart, funny boy on the inside -- and that he just happens to look different on the outside. Placing readers inside Auggie's mind accentuates this side of Auggie's character and provides a unique perspective that most readers would not otherwise have.
There is clearly a huge contrast between characters who know Auggie well and characters who do not. Everyone who knows Auggie well -- Via, his mother, his father, his old friends -- can look past his deformity and see him for who he truly is. People who do not know him, though, like most of the kids at Beecher Prep, judge him quickly and thus spend more time avoiding him than trying to befriend him. Of course, first impressions can be misleading; Auggie is so much more than how he looks.
Palacio certainly illustrates the heartbreaking ways in which children can be cruel to those who do not "fit in"; she also, however, shows that some children do have a remarkable capacity for kindness. Summer is one of these praiseworthy individuals, a student who immediately takes a simple yet important step to make Auggie feel welcome. Summer serves as a model both for the other characters and for readers. At first we are led to believe that Jack is a model of kindness, too, but later on we learn that he may be worse than he appears.
Mr. Browne's precepts will serve as an important device for the rest of the story. These precepts are primarily a lesson for the students, subtle reminders of the way they should behave towards others. Each precept applies in some way to Auggie's situation. But the value of the precepts does not stop there; Mr. Browne's sayings are obvious morals for readers to heed as well, since Wonder is very much a novel with legitimate implications for real life.
Auggie's cutting off his Padawan braid is a small yet important scene in this first section. Both the individual Padawan braid and Auggie's larger Star Wars obsession are prominent symbols of his past. By going to school, Auggie is signaling his desire to move forward in life, rather than remain rooted in his childhood. Cutting off the Padawan braid represents taking the next step; in this way, Wonder will be a coming-of-age story, as Auggie continues his forward march through his first year at a real school.
This coming-of-age will not, however, come without obstacles. There have been small acts of cruelty throughout this entire section, but Auggie has become desensitized to some of these reactions by now. He understands that people who do not know him will not always look past his face. It hurts, though, when Jack, someone Auggie thought he knew, ends up betraying him. This reversal illustrates how differently kids can act depending on the company they are in; Jack is a completely different person with Julian than he is with Auggie. Faced with such different sides of his onetime friend, Auggie does not know which one is the true Jack. It is the first time Auggie is seriously hurt at his new school.