Saving Wonder by Mary Knight – Review by Mary Alice Ramsey

“Words are thoughts and thoughts are things” Papaw tells Curley.  And Mary Knight uses them exquisitely her debut novel Saving Wonder. Curley Hines, a seventh grade boy, shares his life story with us.


Being someone who came to love reading late in life, I was captivated by Curley. His joy. His wonder. Living with his grandfather in Wonder Gap, Kentucky among the Appalachian Mountains, Curley experiences the loss of family, the joy of friendship and the discovery of his voice.


Mary Knight begins each chapter with a single alphabet letter. Within each chapter, Curley is given  a new word by his grandfather; a word to own, to use. Papaw’s dream is for Curley to leave the mountains some day, and knows that education and knowledge bring that possibility. Curley’s response?

I know he means well, but I think I’m a lost cause. I’ve been attached to these mountains since I was born, like my umbilical cord was lassoed around their tops.


As Curley describes the world around him, I am transported to it. I feel as if I’m sitting with him and Jules on the old sycamore tree. Snow falling. Elk spotting. Crushing on the girl next door, Jules. Discovering the feelings aren’t reciprocal and watching as she cares for someone else. The bittersweet parts of growing up are so interwoven with the childlike wonder and awe, there is a great hope for what will come for Curley.


When the home Curley knows and loves is threatened by the coal industry, he is challenged by his grandfather to fight and make a difference. Was the elk Curley saw on the mountain one of the very endangered species he was studying in school? How could he find out?  Combining his words with a classmate’s videography skills, Curley creates an expression of what he’s thinking and feeling. His voice gives him power. His voice goes viral.


Saving Wonder is on one level a story of relationships: families, friends, people and the environment, the impact of industry on the land, and the heritage of the Cherokee.  Yet on another level, Saving Wonder is a story of the power of a single voice and the power of words. Regardless of age, you can make a difference. You matter.


Saving Wonder is a great read for grades 5-7. Use as a read-aloud, a book club, or for the student who loves realistic fiction.


Mary Alice Ramsey works in an elementary library, The Workshop of Wonder. As the Architect of Wonder, she is creating a program for readers of all ages to find their reading voice. Mary Alice is continuously looking for ways to help her readers express themselves as writers, and is blending writing with other media such as coding, making, and Legos. You can find her tweeting @ma_ramsey and #creatingreaders. She shares the adventures of her library life on the blog: