July 15, 2023

Sara Flannery Murphy: "The Wonder State" (ARC Review)

Title: The Wonder State [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Sara Flannery Murphy [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2023
Age: 14+ (I shelved it as Adult because of the characters' age in the present, but it can be read by teens; also, the protagonists are teens in the flashbacks)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Engrossing, unique twist on the "estranged-friends-with-a-dark-secret-are-back-in-town-to-face-their-past" trope. Mostly fleshed-out characters with complex relationships.
Cons: Not much diversity. The one Black (and gay) character feels less developed than the others.
WARNING! Blood, gore, violence and some disturbing imagery. Adult abuse on kids (not of the sexual kind).
Will appeal to: Those who love a dark, yet poetical story steeped in magic. Those who enjoy adult-vs.-teen timelines.

Blurb: Five friends arrive back in Eternal Springs, the small town they all fled after high-school graduation. Each of them is drawn home by a cryptic, scrawled two-word letter: You promised. It has been fifteen years since that life-changing summer, and they're anxious to find out why Brandi called them back, especially when they vowed never to return. But Brandi is missing. She'd been acting erratically for months, in and out of rehab, railing at whoever might listen about magic all around them. About a power they can't see. And strange houses that appear only when you need them... (Amazon)

Review:  First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on NetGalley. Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.


When I first read the synopsis of this book, it called to me...but after I placed my NG request, I realised that it was unclear if Brandi's mental health was damaged and she was hallucinating the houses, so by the time my acceptance email came, I was praying that TWS wasn't one of THOSE novels - you know, the ones where mental health issues are treated like plot devices. I'm pleased to say this wasn't the case, and actually, this book delivered even more than I expected it to. Also, if you've read Stephen King's It or Dan Hanks' Swashbucklers (which I enjoyed and reviewed last year), and you're wondering how much novelty a story about a group of estranged friends reuniting in the wake of a tragedy can hold, the answer is: a great deal. TWS is part mystery, part adult drama, part coming-of-age story (thanks to the dual timeline), flirting with portal fantasy by way of magical realism and a touch of horror. I know it sounds a bit too much, but the way Murphy weaves it all together, it works like a charm.


While on the surface the magical houses and their powers/contents are the driving force of the book (and you're NOT prepared for what some of them will throw at you), TWS is much more than a quest for a different reality or - in the "adult" timeline - for the truth about a friend's disappearance in addition to that. In the past, the houses brought the characters together, and forged a bond among six teens whose lives would never have intertwined otherwise - mostly due to their different social ranks. But the mystery and magic the buildings are imbued with also shaped those teens, and set a series of circumstances in motion that ultimately reverberate in the "adult" timeline. While you're busy gaping at the houses' offerings (though, in a way, they take as much as they give - and then some) and wondering if the final one is, indeed, a portal to a different world - and in that case, if Brandi found safety there despite all evidence pointing to a gruesome fate for her - you get caught in a web of very human emotions, hopes, lies and fears. I must admit that, by the end, I was glued to the pages, and even if the epilogue went in a different direction than I expected, I found it powerful and satisfying all the same - or maybe even more.
Ultimately, TWS is as much a cry for/celebration of the extraordinary as it is a warning that if you're lucky enough to unveil it, the only way not to get consumed by it is to share it with your fellow human beings with no strings attached - plus a reminder that you can find magic in the ordinary if you look hard enough.

Note: I couldn't help but notice a handful of errors, that I'm sure will be corrected in the final version...but irked me a little (e.g.: "should of" for "should have" or "the six of theirs" for "the six of them's"). Then again, despite that, the writing is evocative (without being purple) and quite lovely, and I was able to forgive those small transgressions. 

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  1. The premise kinda grabs me too! and the portal fantasy tease. The last sentence- awesome. I love books like this that celebrate the extraordinary or the sense of wonder.

    1. This book should be more hyped! and yes to that.

  2. I am trying to think if I have seen a five-star review from you. I am glad this book found you. It's the end of your review that has me intrigued, the message of having to share or be consumed. That's deep

    1. "I am trying to think if I have seen a five-star review from you."
      Haha, I suppose my lower ratings make more of an impression? because I have 53 five-star reviews on the blog...

      I think I was inspired when I wrote that last line LOL. That's what I took from this book anyway...among other things. I hope it will find many other people as well!

  3. I'm glad you loved this. It's been on my radar since it was announced, but I never requested it. I may have to buy a copy now😁

    1. I think it's one of those hidden gems...I hope you'll get to it eventually!

  4. I'm glad you ended up liking it and it was so good. This does sound like it would be an interesting book to read.

  5. I REALLY want to read this book! I did not see it on NG somehow, and I had been waiting for it to show up but it is too late now so I shall buy and read it because your review has made me extra excited for you! I am so glad that you liked it so much!

    1. Thank you! But it's still on NG! It only expires on August 31st:

  6. First time around I am seeing this one. I will keep my eye out for more reviews :D

  7. Oooh this sound super interesting just for the fact that it kept you on your toes!

    Karen @For What It's Worth

  8. Sounds like it would make a great This Is Us-type flashback show. And I'm happy too that it's not one of 'those' books. I've seen far too many books that use mental health like that.

    1. Exactly...I think there's more awareness now, but nevertheless, problematic books of that kind still exist.


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