The Wonders Review
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In years past, traveling freak shows were all the rage, shocking curious audience members with their tiny men and bearded ladies. In her novel The Wonders, author Paddy O’Reilly uses an updated freak show to explore our notions of family, humanity, disability, and celebrity.

The Wonders follows three modern-day freaks as they come together to become a worldwide phenomenon.

Following a failed heart transplant, quiet loner Leon decided to take his chances on a secret—and highly illegal—procedure that left him with a brass heart. Once his condition becomes public, he’s contacted by Rhona, the daughter of a legendary circus master, who wants him to join her latest show.

Leon is brought to Vermont, where he meets Kathryn, a beautiful young woman whose treatment for a serious disease left her covered in thick wool, and Christos, an arrogant performance artist who’s fitted himself with a pair of massive wings. Soon, Rhona’s three Wonders become international celebrities—but they quickly learn the price of fame.

Stylishly and thoughtfully written in a way that feels both modern and classic, The Wonders uses unique characters to tell a universal story.

Once upon a time, characters like these would be confined to the circus. They’d perform behind a heavy curtain, where viewers would pay to gawk and gasp before going home to tell stories about the shocking things they witnessed. Now, however, in our reality TV world, we’re more accustomed to the unusual. In fact, we’ve learned to embrace it. Just flip channels for a while, and you’ll find hoarders and strange addictions and exhibitionists and Kardashians. And, in the same way, Leon, Kathryn, and Christos are able to use their differences to become rich and famous.

In introducing these three unusual characters, then, the story explores what it’s like to be human. As they come together to tour the world, they build a quirky kind of family—a trusted support system—but they also change and grow as individuals. Kathryn learns to stand up to the abuse she once suffered. Leon learns to let down his guard and let others into his [metal] heart. And even Christos learns that it’s not always all about him. Since there are so many distinctive characters here, not all of them get the development that they deserve. But while their stories may feel somewhat distant, they’re still intriguing.

There are so many lessons to learn from this novel—and so many ideas to explore. And, for that reason, The Wonders can, at times, feel a bit heavy and cluttered. But these uniquely lovable characters—both their on-stage personas and the struggles and insecurities that they keep to themselves—make this literary circus an often fascinating spectacle.

Fortunately, you don’t have to pay a fortune to get close to this trio of celebrities. Just pick up the book, and they’ll help you examine what it means to be fabulously different—yet still perfectly normal.

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