Reviewer Ekta Garg: Ekta has actively written and edited since 2005 for publications like: The Portland Physician Scribe; the Portland Home Builders Association home show magazines; ABCDlady; and The Bollywood Ticket. With an MSJ in magazine publishing from Northwestern University Ekta also maintains The Write Edge- a professional blog for her writing. In addition to her writing and editing, Ekta maintains her position as a “domestic engineer”—housewife—and enjoys being a mother to two beautiful kids.
Publisher: Atria Books
A man suffers from heart failure and becomes a celebrity after a life-changing surgery turns him into a human anomaly. He joins two other people in similar situations, and the three of them form the latest international sensation. They experience the ups and downs of public life together and learn to navigate the emotional challenges that come with that life. Paddy O’Reilly gives readers this premise in the touching but sometimes ambivalent novel The Wonders.
Leon Hyland’s heart has failed, and he receives a heart transplant. When his body starts to reject the second heart, however, Leon decides this is it. There’s no point in prolonging the inevitable: he should just accept the fact that he will die. Then he gets a phone call that literally gives him another life.
A surgeon and a scientist couple in Leon’s native Australia tell him about a highly risky surgery. They have technology at their disposal that hasn’t received any kind of approval, but they also believe it could help Leon. After some deliberation Leon decides to undergo the ordeal. The worst that could happen, he reasons, is that he would die.
Against every imaginable odd Leon survives and feels better than he has in ages. The trade off? His privacy. The new heart is unlike anything anyone has ever seen, and he finds it difficult to stay anonymous. An American entrepreneur gets in touch about turning Leon’s newfound fame into a business venture. She tells him about two other people she’s met who have also undergone dramatic physical transformations and how she’s convinced them to join her.
Once again Leon does a mental shrug. In this way he meets Kathryn, an Irish woman who suffered from a terrible condition and who now has sheep wool growing from her skin. Leon also meets Christos, a statuesque man from Greece who uses his body as his personal canvas; he had ceramic implants inserted into his back to support a pair of wings that he can open and close with muscle strength.
The entrepreneur, Rhona, acts as their manager and confidante by turns. With a solid background in the circus, Rhona uses all of her experience along with twenty-first century technology to make Leon, Kathryn, and Christos—collectively The Wonders—as the next big thing. Within weeks the entire world has begun talking about The Wonders.
The three discover the real meaning of the word “celebrity” and do what they can to navigate every avenue their new status brings. They deal with crazed fans, religious fanatics, awestruck attendees, and the people from their past that everyone wants to forget. Through it all The Wonders start to learn what it means to be a family.
Australian author Paddy O’Reilly treats her characters with sympathy and humor. She also keeps them refreshingly real; while Leon accepts his life as a public figure, he does so with reluctance. Kathryn doesn’t mind standing strong and proud and accepting financial compensation for her affliction, and Christos seeks it out as much to feed his vanity as to satisfy his creative urges. Readers will find elements of regular people in all three characters.
The book’s aforementioned ambivalence comes in the medical issues that turn the three characters into The Wonders in the first place. As the sole point-of-view character for the entire novel, Leon’s medical issues should have received more attention. O’Reilly describes Leon’s new heart with just enough detail to make readers wonder about it but not quite enough to create a full mental picture.
Because readers get the benefit of Leon’s observations they’ll find out more about Kathryn and Christos’ circumstances than about Leon himself, which is a shame. Leon is an incredibly likeable character. Also Leon’s introverted nature prevents him from getting to know everything about Kathryn and Christos’ medical histories, and readers suffer the same fate.
The camaraderie the three main characters share provides rich material for interesting situations, although for a while the book might make readers feel like O’Reilly is treading water before getting to the climax. A little bit of editing for content would have helped tighten a few of those spots.
Loose spots in the plot and mild ambivalence aside, readers will most likely enjoy The Wonders. I recommend they look for it at their libraries.