Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Saving Wonder

Saving Wonder

Fall 2016 Fiction
Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Author: Mary Knight
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 9780545828932
Hardcover Price: $16.99

Curley Hines lives in the Appalachian Mountains, in coal country, with his grandfather. By the seventh grade, he's had a lifetime of tragedy, having lost both his parents and younger brother to mine-related accidents. Still, the great mountains of Wonder Gap, Kentucky, and the house he shares with PawPaw (with best friend Jules right down the road) are home to him, the only one he's known.

Wonder Gap is a town divided, between the people who love the mountain and those who depend on the coal mine. When the coal company is sold, a new kid shows up at school - JD, the only son of the mine's new owner. In a surprising twist, he's not so bad. And neither is his father. This is a credit to Mary Knight - she doesn't offer clear-cut villains or heroes. Instead, she makes her characters, and readers, do the work of considering different views. While researching a school project, Curley learns that JD's father is planning to level the mountain right outside his front door, to mine it. He panics. Pawpaw and Curly are in their own secret way, also dependent on coal, but to lose the mountain is unthinkable. There's no simple "us" against "them." In this community, everything is intertwined. Though their family interests collide, JD and Curley become friends. PawPaw, and JD's father are friendly, too, but both struggle with internal conflicts. Each wants to do the right thing, but it's not completely clear to either one what the right thing is.

Like a line of dominos, one small action sets off a series of events. Not everyone wins, but a community comes together. And everyone learns something.

Threaded throughout the book are PawPaw's gifts of words. He doles them out weekly to Curly, in alphabetical order (articulate, belligerent, collaborate) and he chooses them carefully. He's not just trying to build his grandson's vocabulary; he's trying to open up his mind.

Saving Wonder is a lovely, well-written story with great themes -- embrace your community, make a difference, stay true to your values. Knight does a fine job of showing that much of life is neither black nor white, but instead often a vexing shade of gray.

Teresa DiFalco   ©2016 Parents' Choice
Teresa DiFalco is an award-winning ghostwriter, writer, and mother in Vancouver, Washington. She's been a contributing editor for Parents' Choice for over ten years. She's a strong speller, a menace at badminton, and makes a decent soufflé.

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