The Wonder State
by Sara Flannery Murphy
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Pub Date 18 Jul 2023 | Archive Date 31 Aug 2023
From the author of Girl One comes a spellbinding adventure about a strange power lurking in the Arkansas Ozarks, and the group of friends obsessed with finding it.
Five friends arrive back in Eternal Springs, Arkansas, the small town they all fled after high school graduation. Each is drawn home by a cryptic, scrawled two-word letter that reads, You promised.
It has been fifteen years since the summer that changed their lives, 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, railing at whoever might listen about magic all around them. About a power they can’t see. And about strange houses that appear only when you need them . . .
Told in two enthralling timelines, The Wonder State is a gorgeous, immersive, speculative Gothic tale about searching for home. Sara Flannery Murphy has created another brilliant, genre-blurring novel—an adventure story laced with nostalgia, exploring belonging and the lasting power of community.
A Note From the Publisher
“The Wonder State is a startling feat of—and feast for—the imagination, filled with intoxicating mysteries, devastating secrets, and prose as beautiful and magical as the story itself. Its setting is both deeply familiar and uniquely fantastical, and it’s the atmospheric page-turner of my dreams.” —Megan Collins, author of The Family Plot
“Reading this novel was like finding a haunted passageway through the fiercest heart of the Ozarks. It’s full of creepy houses, broken promises, and the kind of thorny secrets that bind a small town for generations. Provocative, melodic, and surprising, The Wonder State led me into its sparkling dark and still hasn’t let me go.” —Amy Jo Burns, author of Shiner
“Sara Flannery Murphy’s The Wonder State is many things: a bittersweet coming-of-age tale, an engrossing portrait of life in the small-town Ozarks, and a brilliant allegory in which childhood longings for permanence and stability take a concrete form. It reminds me of some of the books I’ve loved the longest, including the Chronicles of Narnia and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and yet it offers its own unique form of magic. Above all, it speaks to our secret yearnings for a place where the past might be waiting for us to step into it again.” —Polly Stewart, author of The Good Ones
“The Wonder State is a slippery, twisty tale about friendship, power, and belonging. Sara Flannery Murphy’s worlds are never quite what they seem—this one in particular is electrifying and scary and utterly thrilling.” —Anton DiSclafani, New York Times bestselling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
“The most entertaining escapist book I've read for ages, with an ending that had me in tears, The Wonder State is a novel of homecoming that shimmers with magic, love, and above all, the beauty of the ordinary.” —Jennifer Thorne, author of Lute
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 82 members
The Wonder State was a gorgeous read, and I enjoyed it so much that I immediately checked out Sara Flannery Murphy’s previous novels from my local library. In many ways, the book was a surprise to me. The set up is a familiar one from a lot of thrillers: former high school friends reunited by a long-buried secret surfacing. No shade here—I love tropes and there’s a reason I Know What You Did Last Summer is so much fun. However, The Wonder State goes in a different direction, leaning hard into the speculative and into the emotional bonds between the characters. Don’t get me wrong—it’s definitely a puzzle box of a book, and an excellent one. I had to stop myself from skipping ahead several times just to see if my suspicions were correct.
For me, where this book shone was in its deft and nuanced characterization. All of the high school friends appear one dimensional tropes at first glance (the jock with a heart of gold, the rich and disreputable siblings, the redneck girl with an addiction problem who was left behind, the Black nerd…) but quickly became real people with interesting and complicated motivations. In many ways, this is a book about childhood friendship as a kind of romance, a first love that marks you forever. I loved this novel and the story stayed with me long after I finished it.
On a minor note, it was also such a pleasure to read a book set in Arkansas by someone local who loves and appreciates the region and is able to offer more than a stereotypical one dimensional picture of it. If you loved Eternal Springs, I recommend a visit to Eureka Springs, where there may not be any mysterious and magical houses but there’s still a lot of beauty.
Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for an early copy of this book.
There's something about The Wonder State by Sara Flannery Murphy that reminded me of The Secret History. A group of friends. A shared secret. A tragedy.
A group of friends are summoned by a cryptic letter from a high-school friend. When they all return, they have to confront their past and what they left behind. But...that's the simple summary. This is more about the desire to be somewhere else, to escape your circumstances, to have a better life. It's falling in love and wanting to stop time.
Come into this book with an openness for magic, for retribution, for friendship and rekindled love.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review.