Saving Wonder – Mary Knight
Having lost most of his family to coal-mining accidents as a little boy, Curley Hines lives with his grandfather in the Appalachian Mountains of Wonder Gap, Kentucky. Ever since Curley can remember, Papaw has been giving him a word each week to learn and live. Papaw says words are Curley's way out of the holler, even though Curley has no intention of ever leaving.
When a new coal boss takes over the local mining company, life as Curley knows it is turned upside down. Suddenly, his best friend, Jules, is interested in the coal boss's son, and worse, the mining company threatens to destroy Curley and Papaw's mountain. Now Curley faces a difficult choice. Does he use his words to speak out against Big Coal and save his mountain, or does he remain silent and save his way of life?
Review: Eight words that I never thought would come from my keyboard: The love triangle in this book is adorable.
Normally, I hate love triangles with the stomach-churning fire of a thousand ultra-spicy burritos. Love triangles are disrespectful. If someone is in a relationship, then stop pursuing them. If you’re leading two people on, then make up your mind and knock it off. I have a hard time rooting for any character who creates a love triangle.
I can (mostly) forgive the love triangle in this book because it didn’t turn out the way I expected, and the characters are young. This is the characters’ first attempt at a relationship. They’re figuring it out as they go along. The love triangle feels believable because none of the characters really know what they’re doing.
In Saving Wonder, twelve-year-old Curley learns that the mountain near his house will be subjected to mountaintop removal mining. Basically, the mountain will be ground down layer by layer to get at the coal inside. Mountaintop removal is a dangerous mining practice that has a huge environmental impact. Coal mining has already killed Curley’s parents, and he doesn’t want it to take his mountain, too.
I like a lot about this book, but I especially appreciate that the author didn’t ignore the complexities of mountaintop removal. This type of mining is a real-life issue in Appalachia, and the author didn’t oversimplify it. Yes, mountaintop removal is dangerous and horrible for the environment, but it provides jobs and electricity that the country needs. Even though Saving Wonder focuses on Kentucky, mining practices aren’t just an Appalachian issue. I live in Colorado, and we have surface mining here, too. I think that any reader who grew up (or is growing up) in the mountains will be able to relate to Curley’s struggle.
Curley is an easy character to love. He has a strong voice. The author does a wonderful job of showing how his lifestyle and culture are tied to the environment. This book is a coming-of-age story. Curley is angry about the changes happening in his world, and he doesn’t always take out his anger in healthy ways. Over the course of the novel, he learns to harness his anger and use it in an attempt to save his mountain. He discovers his passion and finds out that he can make a difference. He doesn’t have to feel powerless.
The irrevocable nature of life is a major theme in this book. A lot of Curley’s anger seems to come from the fact that some things can’t be undone. His parents can’t come back to life, extinct species can’t be replaced, tops can’t be put back on mountains. His frustration is understandable. It’s easy to empathize with him because this is a tough lesson to learn.
My only issue with the characters is that I think they occasionally act older than their ages. At one point, I actually flipped back through the book to re-check their ages. Also, the press conference at the end of the novel is a bit too idealistic and heavy-handed for my tastes, but it does have a good message about how kids can change the world. Or, change the fate of a mountain, at least.
Those are minor issues. Saving Wonder is well-written, well-researched, and compelling. It touches on issues surrounding politics, economics, culture, history, and the environment. Young readers will also learn a few new words. If you’re looking for an educational middlegrade book, I’d highly recommend this one.