Author: Emma Donoghue
Genre: Suspense, Gothic, Canadian
Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
First Published: September 20, 2016
First Line: "The journey was no worse than she expected."
Book Description from GoodReads: An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story.
Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, The Wonder—inspired by numerous European and North American cases of “fasting girls” between the sixteenth century and the twentieth—is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.
My Rating: 4.5 stars
My Review: It took me awhile to get into this book and I almost put it down. But, based on my friend's review I persevered and I'm so glad I did. This is the ultimate slow-burn kind of book and it wasn't until around page 175, two-thirds of the way through, that the book went from slow-burn to fully ignited where you would have had to pry this book out of my hands to get me to stop reading.
The Wonder is a quiet, mysterious and atmospheric read about an eleven-year-old girl who claims to have lived without food for four months and the nurse who is hired to observe the girl to see if this miracle is true or a hoax. Throughout the book, Donoghue gives her readers vivid descriptions of late 19th century rural Ireland's countryside, local hierarchy and people and shows the strong power of faith among many of the locals. The atmosphere is lonely, secluded and dreary. It's within this setting that the plot is slowly revealed as Lib, a Nightingale trained nurse, tries to figure out what is happening to her charge.
Lib is a wonderful main character who goes through a transformation from ardent skeptic to a strong advocate for her patient. She was complex and her feelings were often in line with my own. I loved the backbone she showed with the local men in power and as Lib's concern and frustration increased so did mine. I found myself more and more invested in learning what was going on with this child. I felt a whole gamut of emotions - I was sad, hopeful, curious, anxious but most of all, angry.
My perspective went through a metamorphosis while reading. While I initially didn't think there was a supernatural element involved, as I continued reading, I wasn't entirely sure that there wasn't a possibility of a mystical aspect. How could this eleven-year-old girl survive for four months without food? Donoghue painted such an eerie atmosphere for her readers as well as a strong sense of faith within many of the characters that by the end I felt anything was possible. Could it be a miracle as some of the locals believed? Or was it something more mundane, yet nefarious? I had a few theories but ultimately, I didn't predict the final outcome. Donoghue had me hook, line and sinker.
I also enjoyed seeing the infancy of modern nursing. Donoghue shows the frustrations and struggles nurses experienced to be taken seriously and professionally by doctors. The general limitations of being a woman in the late 19th century is well documented as well.
I don't want to give any of the plot away but just know that I highly recommend this book. It's a slow go at first but the last third of the book makes up for the cautious beginning. While this feels like a different kind of book from Donoghue's other book Room (which I also enjoyed) I think that she gives her readers a similar 'can't put this book down' kind of intense read.