the wonder (emma donoghue)

The Wonder
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Religious Fiction?

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Image via: Amazon

Every year, I pull together a list of things I might like for Christmas, and every year, that list includes at least three books. This year, I completely forgot that I included The Wonder on that list, but luckily nobody purchased it for me before I downloaded the eBook from our local library and tore through it. Whoops! Seriously though, how did I only recently learn about the brilliance of library eBooks? I get the appeal of purchasing tangible copies of books and all, but if you’re already planning on reading a book on your Kindle for convenience’s sake, why not check it out from the library and save yourself some money? This is coming from somebody who seriously cannot get enough of the library eBook situation, in case you didn’t notice. I’m unclear on whether this is a special feature at our public library or something in libraries across the country, but either way, if it’s available to you, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT.

So yes, long story short, that’s how I found myself staying up past my bedtime as I read chapter after chapter of The Wonder. And there’s a reason this book secured a coveted spot on my reading list: Emma Donoghue is a pretty impressive lady. She has a PhD, for starters, but she’s better known as the mastermind behind the brilliant novel Room. I’ve yet to actually read it (I know, I know—I’m a bad bibliophile!), but I did watch and love and cry during the Oscar-winning film adaptation. Which is amazing. Seriously. Watch it if you have the chance. Or even better, be a good bibliophile (unlike me) and read the book first and watch the movie and then report back with all of your observations!…This is clearly going to be a rambling sort of blog post, but suffice to say that I’d wanted to read Emma Donoghue’s works for awhile, and this novel’s plot—a nurse investigating the authenticity of a young Irish girl’s claim that she hasn’t eaten in months—was super intriguing. So I powered up my Kindle and jumped right in.

If we’re being honest, I wasn’t immediately sold. I’m not sure if it’s because I had too high of expectations or if I found the writing a bit, well, pretentious. Whatever the reason, I spent the first few chapters alternating between almost giving up and feeling like a jerk for wanting to abandon the book because I felt the author (not the character) seemed pretentious. So I gave it a few more chapters, and that was the right decision because slowly, slowly, I found myself falling into Emma Donoghue‘s story.

Lib, the narrator, is an outsider visiting Anna O’Donnell’s small Irish hometown, and so her observations about the family and town seem, at times, quite judgmental. But I guess that’s the point. She’s doubtful about the authenticity of Anna’s claims (that she, spoiler alert, survives on “manna” from heaven), and she does her best to convince her readers of the absolute ridiculousness of the situation. Though I didn’t ever fully warm up to Lib, I did warm up to the story she weaves, and within a few chapters, I could appreciate why this mystery (Has Anna actually fasted for the past four months? If so, how? If not, how is she secretly eating?) would be worth exploring.

Either way, I kept at it, and I found myself so caught up in Emma Donoghue’s story that when she hit with the climactic moments in the final few chapters (and yes, there are a few of them), it was like a punch to the gut. I was completely taken aback by the story’s twists. In other words, it felt a bit like a cleverly written thriller novel under the guise of highbrow literature. The best of both worlds, I’d argue.

That being said—and I’m sure this was, in part, the point—it doesn’t paint a super flattering picture of Catholicism. It explores Catholic guilt and hypocrisy, of the Catholic community’s (potentially misguided) faith in their priests, of the risks of blind faith. As someone with Catholic family members who already regularly struggles with these issues, it was interesting to see them in a long-ago setting in a community where Catholicism was the absolute focus in everyone’s life.

So, with that in mind, this is one of those books that could go either way. It’s no question for me, at least, that the novel earned a solid “lit” vote because of the last five or six chapters. However, I totally recognize all of the turnoffs that would discourage someone from reading it (ranging from Emma Donoghue’s writing style to its portrayal of Catholics), and because of those features, I totally understand why someone wouldn’t enjoy the book. If I could rate this with something other than “good” or “bad,” I’d probably put it “above average” but not “great,” certainly not the “masterpiece” it’s been called. Take my review with a grain of salt, then, and if you do choose to power up your Kindle and check it out of your local library, let me know what you think!

Verdict: Lit

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the wonder (emma donoghue)

the wolf road (beth lewis)

The Wolf Road
Genre: Dystopian Literature, Fiction

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Image via: Amazon

To be honest, I didn’t plan on reading The Wolf Road. I mean for starters, I didn’t fully appreciate how much reading I’d really be doing in grad school, but once I learned (and trust me, I had no choice but learn it quickly), I felt guilty wasting any of my precious free time with “fun” reading. For the sake of my sanity, though, I decided to treat myself to some pleasure reading over Thanksgiving break, which was all fine and dandy except I never bothered to pack a novel. Luckily, my husband is possibly even more of a book nerd than I am (which is saying something, as I am exclusively studying literature in grad school), and he had already checked out not one, not two, but three books from our city’s library and was gracious enough to loan one to me. So long story short, that’s how I ended up falling in love with this book. By accident. The best kind of accident.

I mean it’s obvious, then, that this book is a major “lit” for me. To be fair, though, I wasn’t initially sure. Within the first few pages, I realized a) I was dependent upon a first-person narrator with a very distinct voice (I’m not always a fan of that type of storytelling) and b) I already knew the ending. I mean that’s not because I’m a book-reading genius or because the book recycled a stale, overused plot, but rather because the novel opens with the closing scene. Granted, not the closing scene, but a scene that is rehashed in the last few chapters. And it was good. Super weird, definitely dark, but good. Oh, and it’s totally a dystopian novel, and if you can’t tell, I’m super into that genre.

So I kept reading. And the more I read, the more I became a bit obsessed with Elka, the story’s protagonist. At first, it was an unstable trust, a dependency on Elka to tell her story from her (obviously one-sided) point of view. But as I continued reading, I realized how necessary it was that Beth Lewis choose a first-person narration. The story itself is pretty crazy and out there, but Elka might be unlike any other character I’ve ever read in literature, and I wanted to know what she was thinking. Sure, we’ve seen a few young, independent, knife-throwing, bad-ass female protagonists in a number of dystopian novels (including my current read, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven), but Elka is something special. She’s openly flawed, openly biased, and completely unwilling to really examine her past in fear of what it contains. The climactic scenes are physical confrontations with the “bad guys,” sure, but also moments when Elka finally rediscovers  aspects of her childhood relationship to Trapper (“Bad Guy #1”). In a sense, the reader has no choice but to accept her shifting, unreliable versions of events until Elka herself learns the truth. So as I read, I had the pleasure of joining Elka in her revelations, her journeys but also her discoveries inward. Plus, there’s the added bonus of reading a post-apocalyptic novel from the first-person perspective of someone who finds certain bizarre features of the world entirely normal.

I mean, there are definitely some fantastical elements aside from the novel’s dystopian setting. Elka strikes up a relationship with a wolf pup, for example, and conveniently saves the day in multiple crazy situations, and on occasion, she seems perhaps a little too badass, a little too capable. But with Beth Lewis’s writing, you can’t help but accept the unbelievable moments without question, because you recognize that it’s a worthwhile sacrifice to follow Elka through her story.

I’m beginning to realize how, assuming they have writing talent and a creative idea to work with, literary agents might be the best authors (Jandy Nelson is another fave). They know what readers like, and they know how to shape and edit their writing accordingly. Oh, and they have access to the publishing world, which must be quite convenient. At the very least, I’ll keep an eye out for other agents-turned-authors, as they haven’t disappointed me yet!

So essentially what I’m saying is this: If you’re struggling to find a good novel and you’re willing to tough it out with a totally bizarre narrative voice, give this one a chance. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Verdict: Lit

the wolf road (beth lewis)