Skip to main content

Saving Wonder

Review

Saving Wonder

Curley Hines is a seventh grader living in Wonder Gap, Kentucky at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains and he is surrounded by the land and most of the people he loves. Curley lives in coal mining country and the coal mining industry has taken its toll on Curley’s life; his father, a coal miner, was killed in a coal mining accident and his mother and little brother, Zeb, were killed in a sudden flood of sludge and slurry from the coal mine. Now the local mining company wants to rob Curley of his mountain, the land that he loves, his view and his home. SAVING WONDER, Mary Knight’s debut novel, tells the story of Curley and Wonder Gap.

As the rest of his immediate family has been killed in mining related accidents, Curley lives with his Papaw. The relationship between Curley and his Papaw is one of the highlights of SAVING WONDER as the love, admiration and the strength of their bond is palpable throughout the novel. Papaw envisions a future for Curley that exists beyond Wonder Gap and he sees words as Curley’s way out of the holler. To that end, Papaw gives Curley a new word each week to learn and use throughout the week; Papaw believes that it is a perfect system as the 52 weeks of the year allow them to work through the complete alphabet twice. Each chapter in SAVING WONDER is titled with a letter and ends with a definition of the week’s word, including the part of speech and synonyms.

Knight’s debut novel [is] well-written, with enchanting and relatable characters.....SAVING WONDER serves as a good introduction to an issue and a location....

As mentioned above, Curley is surrounded by many of the people he loves, including his best friend and love interest, Jules. The two have been best friends forever, but Curley wonders if they could ever be more. However, the Jules that Curley thought he knew so well begins to change when the son of the new coal boss, JD, enrolls in school and shows an interest in Jules. The interest is mutual and JD and Jules begin dating. This pains Curley, but he likes JD too much to hate him.

Mr. Tiverton, the new coal mining boss and JD’s dad, has plans for expanding the company’s mining operations. The plan starts with clear-cutting and surface-mining Curley’s mountain. Even though Curley desperately wants to save his mountain and home, the issue isn’t that simple when he discovers that Papaw has been receiving money from the coal company as a result of the deaths of Curley’s father, mother and brother. If Curley, or Papaw, speak out against the coal company and their plans the money will stop. Papaw doesn’t make much money as a part-time woodworker so the coal money is essential for the two to live. Curley struggles with what to do, but perhaps he can rely on his words to help him and his mountain.

I found Knight’s debut novel to be well-written, with enchanting and relatable characters. However, Knight does present a bit of a simplified picture of the coal mining industry and the area of Appalachia itself. Like most modern issues coal mining is a complicated topic with many sides and a range of strong opinions within those multiple sides. But, with that being said, I don’t believe that it is realistic for a middle grade novel to present all of these sides in an in-depth and nuanced way. I think that SAVING WONDER serves as a good introduction to an issue and a location, but it is just that—an introduction. I am eager to read more of Knight’s work as it is published, especially if it features this area of the country as I believe that it is underrepresented in literature for children and young adults.

Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on March 1, 2016

Saving Wonder
by Mary Knight

  • Publication Date: February 23, 2016
  • Genres: Children's 8-12, Culture, Family Life
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0545828937
  • ISBN-13: 9780545828932