Jason Mott, the author of The Returned (known as Resurrection on ABC), returns with his second novel, The Wonder of All Things. The story of a small town, it lasers in on Ava and Wash, a young woman and her best friend, who survive a deadly accident one day, in large part because Ava has the power to heal. A story of love, suicide, grace, manipulation, and sacrifice, it’s paranormal and miraculous, but set on the grim backdrop of human nature.
Mott weaves together the story of Ava and Wash, with flashbacks to Ava’s memories of her dead mother, and Wash’s own experience of his deadbeat father. They’re nuanced teenagers, struggling with what it means to be friends and to ‘like’ each other, while balancing the expectations of their parents, who are still exploring what it means to be good parents. All of this is pretty mundane, right? But that’s part of the Mott story: how the spectacular invades the mundane.
Ava’s gift attracts attention: people want her to heal this or that family member, regardless of what the cost is to this brave, compassionate young woman. Nicknamed “The Miracle Child,” she’s labeled with near-Messianic expectations that drag her, and her sheriff father, Macon, into the midst of a public debate over what’s expected, required, or morally responsible for a young woman with these gifts. The scientific world wants to run experiments on her to see how it impacts her, and what they might control to be able to use in other situations! And it’s further complicated by that potential-filled and humanly flawed institution, the church.
Pastor Elijah Brown blows into town, the influential leader of a wildly successful church, with just as much of an agenda as any of these other well-meaning/not-so-well-meaning adults: he wants to show off what Ava can do. From my perspective, it’s here that the waters get muddied (because what happens ultimately is what I expected from the first third): Brown has what I would call a heartfelt belief in Jesus, but he’s allowed it to be twisted in his own heart until he’s justified in manipulating and controlling others because of it. It’s the best of church… and the worst of church, all rolled into one person.
In the end, you won’t need a degree in miracles to understand what goes on here, but it will ask you to question what you believe about relationships, the impact of our past mistakes, the power of faith (and miracles), and our desire to understand everything. Mott’s book asks us to look at all this, and in my mind leaves us with the question of faith and doubt: do we need to understand everything for it to be true? 4 out of 5 stars