The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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“She’s not exactly ill. Your only duty will be to watch her.”

A curious verb. That awful nurse in Jane Eyre, charged with keeping the lunatic hidden away in the attic. “I’ve been brought here to …stand guard?” 

“No, no, simply to observe.”

When veteran nurse of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, Lib Wright is chosen to observe eleven year old Anna O’Donnell, a miracle girl in an Irish village living off manna from heaven, her nursing instincts kick in. Is it a miracle from God? How is it possible that this young girl’s body is surviving without food? It goes against science, and a nurse knows that in a sense the body is a well oiled machine that needs nourishment to work, regardless of whether there is a soul God is moving through or not. Is Lib just a heathen, blind to the miraculous and mysterious ways God moves? Is everyone being had, are the adults creating a miracle with manipulation?  Is Anna a liar, using this ‘miracle’ to get attention children always seem hungry for? As Lib observes Anna, she starts to question everything and begins to care for her patient, whom she is only meant to observe.

As the author herself states, this book was born out of the curious incidents of the fasting girls during the 16th and 20th century in the British Isles, Western Europe and North America. I read a book in 2008 that I was reminded of called The Fasting Girl: A True Victorian Medical Mystery by Michelle Stacey, and with everything happening in  The Wonder the characters are all wonderfully genuine. What is driving Anna to turn away food, taking in only water by the spoonful? The ‘miracle or hoax’ is coming from a pure place in the little girl’s soul regardless of science, God, or all the adults mixed in the confusion. I loved the ending, it was disturbing, heart-breaking and full of hope. Wonderful story, original take on such a strange history. What is more miraculous than the strange workings of the human mind, the reasoning for why we do the things we do- holy or sinful?

Publication Date: September 20, 2016

Little, Brown and Company

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