The Wonder of All Things
Trade Paperback, 304 pages
Mira Reprint Edition
July 28, 2015
Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction, Magic Realism
Book Synopsis: On the heels of his critically acclaimed and New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Returned, Jason Mott delivers a spellbinding tale of love and sacrifice
On an ordinary day, at an air show like that in any small town across the country, a plane crashes into a crowd of spectators. After the dust clears, a thirteen-year-old girl named Ava is found huddled beneath a pocket of rubble with her best friend, Wash. He is injured and bleeding, and when Ava places her hands over him, his wounds disappear.
Ava has an unusual gift: she can heal others of their physical ailments. Until the air show tragedy, her gift was a secret. Now the whole world knows, and suddenly people from all over the globe begin flocking to her small town, looking for healing and eager to catch a glimpse of The Miracle Child. But Ava's unique ability comes at a great cost, and as she grows weaker with each healing, she soon finds herself having to decide just how much she's willing to give up in order to save the ones she loves most.
Elegantly written, deeply intimate and emotionally astute, The Wonder of All Things is an unforgettable story and a poignant reminder of life's extraordinary gifts.
One of the joys of reading literary fiction is the beauty of the prose style. Jason Mott's writing in this novel is absolutely beautiful, flowing, poetic, and full of wonderfully vivid details. The setting in The Wonder of All Things is the fictional town of Stone Temple, which is located near mountains, and Mott masterfully immerses the reader in this beautiful natural locale.
The plot revolves around Ava, the daughter of the town sheriff, who has suddenly developed the ability to heal physical ailments. She first discovers this when she unknowingly heals her best friend, Wash, after a tragic accident at a carnival air show being held at the town.
Mott deals with several themes in this novel, such as the ethics involved in Ava's healings and their concomitant effects on her health, coming of age, facing tragic losses, the heady power of first love, the questioning of spiritual beliefs, the responsibilities of parents and siblings, and the underlying themes of the book -- the fragility and sacredness of human life, as well as the power of memory.
Mott deftly interweaves all of these themes through the interactions of his characters.
Ava is still struggling to accept the loss of her mother, whom she vividly remembers, and is resentful of the presence of her father's new wife, who is unfailingly kind to Ava in spite of the child's obvious hostility toward her.
Macon, Ava's father, is caught in the middle, and, at the same time, has to deal with the growing problem of Ava's sudden fame, which brings hordes of people into the town.
Carmen, Macon's second wife, has regrets and fears of her own, which she tries her best to deal with, pretty much by herself.
Reverend Isaiah Brown is perhaps the book's most complex character. He leads a church, one of several that have descended upon Stone Temple as a result of the appearance of what Brown sees as the miraculous. He also has a brother, Sam, who is a heavy responsibility for him, and for whom he feels unfailing love. Their relationship is a very poignant one.
Then there's Heather, Ava's enigmatic mother, who only appears in the story in flashbacks, which are Ava's memories of her. Through Heather, Mott gives a certain sense of foreboding to the novel.
I love the relationship between Ava and Wash. They are constantly bantering with each other, each also constantly concerned about the other. Wash's healing has taken a terrible toll on Ava, and she is taken to the hospital. Wash is always there for her throughout her stay in the hospital, with his interminable, funny, discussions of Moby Dick, which succeed in lifting her spirits.
Ava is the more outgoing of the two; Wash is shy with everyone except her, and is a dedicated reader. Their contrasting personalities work well together, though. He supports her in everything, and she, in turn, confides in him completely.
There's a dreamlike quality to this book, as the plot gradually moves along, with no sudden shifts or twists, the way people and things in nature grow. While I enjoyed this at times, I did wonder, at other times, just where the plot was heading. I was expecting more dramatic events, more healings, more personal confrontations between some of the characters. For instance, I couldn't believe that no one in Ava's family actually told the public at large that Ava couldn't commit to more healings because doing so would undermine her health. People who only knew her as "The Miracle Child" thought that she was actually being selfish in keeping her gift to herself, and that she had a duty to help humanity. Why didn't either Macon or Carmen at least explain things to Reverernd Brown, who had more personal contact with them? I must admit to some disappointment in this regard.
Another disappointment, one that is nevertheless a necessary part of the story, is Macon himself. Although he does love his daughter, he puts her health at risk by allowing, even encouraging her, to perform more healings. He seems to be more concerned with trying to improve the family's financial situation than with the debilitating effect of each healing on Ava. Ironically, it's Carmen, Ava's stepmother, who fights to protect Ava from having to carry out these healings. It's Carmen who is worried about Ava's health, Carmen who notices that the child is growing thinner. Still, she does nothing to enlighten the world about Ava's condition.
Interestingly, Mott includes another disappointing father in this novel -- Tom, Wash's father, who had abandoned his son due to his own inability to deal with his grief after his wife's death. When he returns to Stone Temple, it becomes painfully clear that he's not a fit parent for Wash.
It's the mothers in the book -- and one grandmother -- who come across as truly nurturing, truly patient and loving with Ava and Wash. Heather, Carmen (although she could have done more for Ava), and Brenda are true heroines in this respect. Heather, unfortunately, was unable to be completely there for Ava, but she did try, even in the face of her own unhappiness. That's more than can be said for Macon.
In spite of these objections, I do think that this is a novel worth reading, for its gently poetic sentences, for the slice of life in a small town which is a microcosm of the grand themes of existence, and, most of all, for its tenacious insistence on hope, in spite of all the tragedies the characters must face.
In short, Mott has penned a book that will long stay with the reader, a haunting, poignant memento of the truly important things in life.
About the Author
JASON MOTT holds a BA in fiction and an MFA in poetry both from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and is the author of two poetry collections. His writing has appeared in numerous literary journals, and he was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. In addition to the rare achievement of receiving starred reviews from all four of the top publishing industry magazines—Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews—The Returned was named a “People Pick” by People magazine, and was featured in Essence, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Post, among others. Mott also appeared on numerous broadcast programs including NPR’s All Things Considered and Tell Me More, The Travis Smiley Show, the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Radio Show and many local television shows across the U.S. Mott lives in North Carolina.