Staff Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder book coverBook I Read: The Wonder” by Emma Donoghue

Why I Checked It Out: The author already has one critically-acclaimed book under her belt (“Room”) so I was curious to see if she had created another. The story features a nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, so it promised to deliver a strong female protagonist, which is another factor that drew me to it. And lastly, it contained an element of mystery, which I figured would be sure to pull me in.

What It’s About: When a young girl in an isolated Irish village stops eating for several months, nurse Lib Wright is sent to observe her to determine whether this is a hoax, or perhaps the miracle that her family and village believe it to be. Although she believes in science and tries to maintain her distance, Lib is drawn to the young girl and finds herself questioning whether she is actually witnessing something from a higher power.

Why I Liked It: I found many appealing aspects to this story. Donoghue writes with an ease that pulled me back into 19th century Ireland. This is an isolated world that is steeped in both the Catholic religion and deeply-ingrained superstitions. Both of these things influenced people and their perspectives, and I could feel Lib’s frustration in trying to explain herself to these people. She is very much a “fish-out-of-water.” The locals cannot understand this educated woman who does not live her life centered around her faith. The interactions between Lib and the locals helped my modern mind understand just how different that world was from my own. I also enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery of how the girl is surviving with no food. The story is paced fairly slowly at first, which I thought helped really immerse me into the world of the story, but picks up speed as Lib draws closer to the truth.

Who Will Like It: This is a story that will appeal to readers who want a character-driven story. It is fascinating watching Lib develop a relationship with the young girl despite her efforts to stay focused on her job as a nurse. Readers who enjoy historical fiction will appreciate Donoghue’s attention to detail and description of the landscape and life on a working Irish farm. She effortlessly captures the isolation of the place (reminding me a bit of “Burial Rites” by Hannah Kent). Although this is not technically a mystery, it will also appeal to readers who like to work their way through a multi-layered tale in order to discover the truth.