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.
Thoughts and Themes: I had started reading this book last year but I put it down because I couldn’t really get into it. I tried it on audiobook and on e-book as well. This time I decided to grab the audiobook version of this book and couldn’t stop listening to it. There are so many things that this book touches on yet it does it in such a way that it doesn’t overwhelm you. I also made the mistake of reading reviews before going into the book which kind of painted my expectations of this book.
I can’t speak to the accuracy in a lot of this book and that is the issue I found most people speaking on. I found that most people took issue with the book having many negative things occur in Oto’s life due to them being intersex but I am not sure if this also has to do with the setting of the book. I understand that different cultures have different views on intersex people and the time and setting of this book could have played a role in the reactions of the people in Oto’s life before he goes to International Secondary School (ISS).
This book discusses relationships between siblings, the role of education, gender, sexuality, belonging, culture, folklore, and more. I thought that the way each of these topics was addressed was done in a good manner, and I really liked how it didn’t feel like things were skirted over.
Characters: In this book, you are introduced to a few characters through their interactions with the main character, Oto/Lori. You get to meet Oto’s mother, sister, and some of Oto’s friends at the school that he is staying at.
I loved Oto/Lori throughout the whole book and I really enjoyed them as the narrator. I loved how we get to see them grow into themself and also get to see the change that happens as they interact with others at ISS. I also really loved Derin and the friendship that Oto/Lori has with him. I loved that Derin just accepted Oto as he is and without any question. That was really nice to see especially for teenage boys of that age as the other boys bullied Oto because he is different.
The other relationship that I liked even though the complexities that it caused for Oto/Lori was his relationship with Wura. Wura is Oto’s sister and at first, she is the one person he feels that he can trust. It is as Oto/Lori learns more about being intersex and starts exploring femininity that his relationship with Wura falters. I thought it was interesting to see this happen because it was not far from the truth, this is what several queer people experience in their familial relationships.
Writing Style: This book goes back and forth between Now and Before, focusing primarily on Oto’s teenage years. In the before years we get to see Oto’s life before he moved to ISS (International Secondary School) and it is in those years that you see how Oto’s mother abused him emotionally and physically due to him being intersex and the views of the village they live in. In the Now section we get to see Oto’s life at ISS as he navigates trying to blend in with the boys but feeling more like a girl and still feeling like something is wrong with him. It is in the now section that Oto/Lori starts learns about being intersex in a neutral way and learns more about himself.
Buki Papillon: Writer, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Massage Therapist, Bead Artist. She/her.* TWITTER: https://twitter.com/bukipapillon *
Buki Papillon was born in Nigeria, lived in the UK where she studied law at the University of Hull and is now settled in the US, where she has learned to find inspiration in the long winters. She has in the past been a travel adviser, events host, and chef.
Her debut novel, An Ordinary Wonder, was published by Pegasus Books in the US on September 7, 2021, and by Dialogue Books (Little, Brown UK) in March 2021. Her work has been published in Post Road Magazine and The Del Sol Review.
She graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She has received fellowships to The Key West Literary Seminars and Vermont Studio Center. She was awarded an Archie D. And Bertha. H. Walker Foundation Scholarship by the Fine Arts Work Center, and is an alumna of the VONA Voices Workshops.
In her downtime she loves taking long rambles in nature, making jewelry, cooking up a storm, and, of course, epic levels of reading.
Her Twitter account is @bukipapillon. Her website is http://bukipapillon.com.