Review of ‘The Wonder’

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue tells the intriguing story of a little girl named Anna O’Donnell, who claims she has been fasting for several months. Many people in their country and village believe Anna to be a “living wonder”.  A nurse, Lib Wright, from England has been sent to Anna’s cabin in Ireland to watch the child. Lib is convinced she will unfold the mystery behind the child’s fasting. Throughout Lib’s watch, she slowly uncovers the dark secret that has been presiding over the household.

This book will bring out questions related to evil, religion, science, and how they may all be tied together in a closely tangled web.

You know, after reading this novel, I was at a loss for words. I wasn’t sure how to approach the thinking process to analyze my emotions for this book. So forgive me if this review sounds a little unorganized and babbling-like.

When I first started reading, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It was slow but still held my interest and I naturally took the side of the nurse who wanted to expose the suspicious, possible hoax. But after reading further, falling deeper into the story, I realized I held sympathy and sadness in my heart for the fasting child.

This novel takes place in 1859 in Ireland. So historically, Catholicism is highly influenced throughout the country. The potato famine past not even a decade ago and the Irish culture is very different from the rest of Eastern civilization at that time. The book is set into five chapters, or parts if you will. Each signifying (in my opinion) a different duty of nursing and how Lib interacts with Anna; a theme or characteristic the reader should keep in mind while reading.

The characters were well written in this book. They were complicated, deep, disturbing, empathetic, and more. Lib Wright, the nurse sent to watch Anna, believes her position is silly and a waste of time. She is confident that she will be able to expose the hoax that Anna and her family have created. Lib’s character is very complicated and the one you get to know best. She has had some very unfortunate past experiences, which shaped her to be the person she was at the beginning of the book. Towards the end, you see her grow from this very emotionless, assertive, controlling, distrustful person into someone who uncovers their true hidden identity.

“Lib felt her shoulders drop. No enemy, then, this soft-faced child; no hardened prisoner. Only a girl caught up in a sort of waking dream.”

Anna is a little girl of eleven that has been fasting for several months. She and her family are supremely involved in their village’s Catholic community. They say all their prayers, believe God is almighty and His word is the truth, and are not persuaded otherwise. Anna is a wonderful child. I fell in love with her almost immediately. Although I wanted to take Lib’s side and believe there was something to uncover, I just couldn’t stay suspicious forever. Anna is a sweet, lullaby, sunflower, bright, loving, and patient child. She is very well-behaved, well-mannered, and gives no trouble to others. For a while you do assume she is not a “living wonder”, but that slowly dissipates and you start to think, maybe it is possible. There is a secret that uncloaks itself in Anna’s story and it broke my heart. You will have to read the book to find out why.

Since religion and science walk hand in hand, close to each other in this novel, you have to ask yourself, “How can they coexist?”. There is evil in this world and you want to protect the ones you love. You want to smack the people who are blinded and make them see, but they never do. The Wonder definitely pulled on my heart-strings when it came to watching a family take the religious side instead of doing the right thing. Showing favoritism towards individuals because of religious influence and punishing those who are not protected by the “Holy Word”. It made me mad to read through these events and realize these things still happen today. Lib put the puzzle pieces together and came to the same result. She couldn’t sit and watch anymore, she needed to act. Science was what Lib believed in and tried to prove this to religious followers. Being trained as a nurse and in a world of science, it was hard for Lib to connect to others in that village. The art of observation, health techniques, and professional training were all pieces of evidence to help Lib’s theories, and it seemed like no one was listening to her.

“If she claimed that her Maker had ordered her not to eat, she’d be comparing herself to a saint. But if she boasted of living by any particular natural means, then she’d be obliged to prove it to the satisfaction of science.”

There is a good question at the back of the book to reflect on. It says:

“Why do you think that in Ireland, and especially in an impoverished hamlet in the countryside, faith governed people’s lives so thoroughly?

In Anna’s house, as the book says, the religious aspect was multilayered and well established. That their religious community was corrupt. Back in that time, I believe people of those poorer areas relied on and used their religion as a crutch. A way to give them some kind of structure and guidance to their own lives. An agenda for their spiritual selves. People worked from day-to-day, farming one crop after another, maybe that wasn’t enough. Maybe they needed someone (a priest, bishop, etc.) to say their life would be more fulfilled if they believed; henceforth, producing religious actions. The geographical position of their village, I’m sure, also had a large impact on their belief systems. Since the village was farther away from booming cities or well-built communities with many businesses and people of all types, they could only see what was right in front of them. They were secluded from the growth of their world. Gaining new knowledge was more difficult because of their geographical position, as well as, new knowledge did not travel out that far, so they stayed stagnant.

Either way,  Anna’s religion, and family ruined the household and Anna’s spirit. Reading this book only supported my ideals and morals in life. It is hard to read stories like this one. Sometimes you just need to put it down because it’s too much. However, it’s important to read them. To educate yourself and remember there is a world much bigger around you. It’s books like these that keep me grounded, eyes wide open, truthful, and just.


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