Review: An Ordinary Wonder by Buki Papillon

An Ordinary Wonder is a story of the courage needed to be yourself.

Oto leaves for boarding school with one plan: excel and escape his cruel home. Falling in love with his roommate was certainly not on the agenda, but fear and shame force him to hide his love and true self.

Back home, weighed down by the expectations of their wealthy and powerful family, the love of Oto’s twin sister wavers and, as their world begins to crumble around them, Oto must make drastic choices that will alter the family’s lives for ever.

Richly imagined with art, proverbs and folk tales, this moving and modern novel follows Oto through life at home and at boarding school in Nigeria, through the heartbreak of living as a boy despite their profound belief they are a girl, and through a hunger for freedom that only a new life in the United States can offer.

An Ordinary Wonder is a powerful coming-of-age story that explores complex desires as well as challenges of family, identity, gender and culture, and what it means to feel whole.

Thank you to Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this wonderful book for review!

What is An Ordinary Wonder about?

An Ordinary Wonder is about finding and accepting one’s self, even in the face of horrible mistreatment. Oto struggles with identity, but even more so with the lack of acceptance offered by friends and family. Ultimately, it is Oto’s journey to find Lori that carries through from start to finish, enduring the time split between the twins at twelve and the twins at fifteen. This story is told with care and love and consideration, a story of hope and perseverance.

Genre: Coming of Age

This book is very much a beat for beat coming of age story. Each step of Oto’s and Lori’s journey is put forth and reflected on appropriately. Coming into their own and learning to love one’s self, one another, and embrace the future are at the heart of the story.

Tropes: I couldn’t find any, I’m sorry?

I think one of the most interesting parts of reading books outside of the Western canon is that there are whole other aspects, details, and tropes to notice. At the moment, I am unable to find any common tropes that are known to the majority of my reader base on the blog in this book. And I think that’s really awesome! Especially because I hope to continue to read books that introduce me to new ideas and new tropes, and I hope in the future I would be able to identify some more readily.

Plot: Freedom of Expression and Identity

A very important feature of the novel is how important it is for young people to explore their identities and express that exploration in a way that feels comfortable and safe. This applies to all young people, but especially to those that are intersex, trans, gender nonbinary, or otherwise do not fit into a strict societal expectation of one gender or another.

The Good

What’s not to love? The writing is beautiful, Papillon’s wording and dialogue and descriptions are all captivating. I love the characters (at least the ones we’re supposed to like) and it was so gratifying to get to the last quarter or so of the novel and see Lori flourish as she deserved. The themes are all consistent and clear throughout, and the plotline is incredibly compelling. This isn’t just a sad novel about suffering, there is so much hope and love packed into the story that any and all suffering is absolutely worth reading through.

The Okay

I don’t have any concrete “not sure about this” or criticisms of this novel so I’ll take this space to give some content warnings: child abuse, child neglect, misgendering, discussion of sexual assault, sexual assault, drunkenness in a minor, bullying, playground violence, bullying violence.

The Bad

Nothing bad to say here!

Final Thoughts

I really can’t express how beautifully written, compelling, and heartbreaking this book is. Buki Papillon harnesses language in such a magical way and infuses so much life and love into the storytelling and the characters. There is a near mystical nature to the story itself and a breath of fresh air in the way it is presented. There is no suffering for suffering’s sake in this book, and though at times things seem terrible and frightening there is always a bit of hope left for Oto and Lori. I am always a bit nervous when reading books of this nature that it will feel voyeuristic to read about such personal and painful struggles, but Papillon really does a tremendous job of presenting the characters’ emotions and thoughts in a way that makes the book absorbing rather than clinical or watchful. I appreciate that there are themes to this book outside of Oto’s struggle and desire to become Lori, and that we also get to enjoy the happiness and achievements of Lori towards the end. Family, spirituality, responsibility, and philosophy are all blended into the story to make a well rounded and uplifting narrative. I whole heartedly recommend this book.


By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

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