The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue
Set in her homeland of Ireland, more specifically the boggy Irish Midlands, in 1859, The Wonder is a mystery that unfolds slowly and dangerously as an eleven-year-old girl lies mostly holed up in her room over the course of many days. The mystery is one of survival and deceit; she has, supposedly, subsisted for 4 months on no food and a meager few teaspoons of water each day. The nurse who is hired to watch her and uncover the truth, a science-minded woman in a land of severe religious believers and superstitious minds, seeks to uncover the truth, and in turn, begins to love the chid as her own.
I loved this book, as I did Donoghue’s Room, for its ability to stay in one place while going elsewhere in mind. Donoghue notes that the story is based on true events of the nearly 50 cases of “so-called Fasting Girls” between the 16th and 20th centuries, many of which were found to be hoaxes. The town’s desire to believe in a miracle blind them to the physical degeneration of the girl, and as the story progresses, uncovering the truth becomes a race against time. Of the 50 or so books I’ve read this past year, this one ranks in the top 10. It is a page-turner and exciting mystery, an indulgence that raises questions about how religion can go too far.