State of Wonder

By Ann Patchett,

Book cover of State of Wonder

Book description

SHORTLISTED FOR THE ORANGE PRIZE FOR FICTION There were people on the banks of the river. Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever. Dr Annick Swenson's work is shrouded…

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Why read it?

8 authors picked State of Wonder as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

My central preoccupation as a woman is to ask, how do we come back from places of darkness? In this book, we are led into the dark heart of a jungle where a headstrong scientist is studying the bizarre rituals of indigenous women who eat the bark of a certain tree. (Tree eating? I’m down.) Her former student, research scientist Dr. Marina Singh, is sent into the jungle to investigate what’s going on after a scientist dies, and I love the tense dynamic between these two women.

Marina’s sensory-rich journey made me feel like I was in the jungle, and…

I am a fan of Patchett’s novels and especially liked this one about a female Indian-American physician working for a pharmaceutical company whose lover-boss sends her on an adventure to rescue a colleague at their company’s research site in the Amazon.

At the beginning of the book, the protagonist is at a liminal stage in her life: she is not sure about her romantic relationship, about her medical career, or about who she can trust as she undertakes the dangerous journey in South America.

I like the way she gains confidence as she becomes more suspicious of others’ motives, and…

This book is an upriver journey of self-discovery, a mystery evoking Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and an exploration of the ethical entanglements of the modern pharmaceutical industry.

I was struck by the rich tapestry of life that Patchett evokes in the Amazonian rainforest of Brazil in stark contrast to the bland, suburban Minnesota from which the main character, Marina, travels. Science plays a major role in this, and I was moved by the central questions at hand, which are what price are we willing to pay for scientific advancement and, at the end of the day, is scientific…

From Culley's list on books in which nature is a teacher.

A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,

Book cover of A Theory of Expanded Love

Caitlin Hicks Author Of A Theory of Expanded Love

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My life and work have been profoundly affected by the central circumstance of my existence: I was born into a very large military Catholic family in the United States of America. As a child surrounded by many others in the 60s, I wrote, performed, and directed family plays with my numerous brothers and sisters. Although I fell in love with a Canadian and moved to Canada, my family of origin still exerts considerable personal influence. My central struggle, coming from that place of chaos, order, and conformity, is to have the courage to live an authentic life based on my own experience of connectedness and individuality, to speak and be heard. 

Caitlin's book list on coming-of-age books that explore belonging, identity, family, and beat with an emotional and/or humorous pulse

What is my book about?

Trapped in her enormous, devout Catholic family in 1963, Annie creates a hilarious campaign of lies when the pope dies and their family friend, Cardinal Stefanucci, is unexpectedly on the shortlist to be elected the first American pope.

Driven to elevate her family to the holiest of holy rollers in the parish, Annie is tortured by her own dishonesty. But when “The Hands” visits her in her bed and when her sister finds herself facing a scandal, Annie discovers her parents will do almost anything to uphold their reputation and keep their secrets safe. 

Questioning all she has believed and torn between her own gut instinct and years of Catholic guilt, Annie takes courageous risks to wrest salvation from the tragic sequence of events set in motion by her parents’ betrayal.

A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,


I enjoyed this book for two main reasons. First, it sucked me in from the very beginning and provided me with what I absolutely love about reading which is to be transported away to a new world.

Within that new world, though, was a unique page-turning story, filled with gorgeous writing and fleshed-out characters, that constantly left me wondering what will happen next.

Second, I thought this book – unsurprisingly considering the author – was a master class in novel writing. Pacing, character development, conflict, plot twists, a transportive quality… I could go on and on.

It satisfied me as…

I recommend State of Wonder because it has complex characters developing in a place that is unique and visual.

Mine is the Indigenous and Spanish-colonial city of Oaxaca in southern Mexico and hers takes place along tributaries in the Amazon Jungle. The intrigue of a man’s mysterious death there is visually compounded with poisonous snakes under the dark primal jungle canopy. The place itself is another character, menacing and mysterious and hiding secrets.

I loved this book because it is the journey and transformation of a professional woman who grows into her own power.

The book begins with the protagonist waiting for a man who promised to show up for an adventure in the jungle, but doesn’t. Life forces her to go on the journey by herself.

The main character ends up in a matriarchal society, where the women live in tree houses, independently of men. She initially goes there to exploit what the community knows about the medicinal qualities of the plants. The more she learns, the more she comes to support…

From HJ's list on people who really hug trees.

A kind of woman-driven answer to Heart of Darkness cast in modern-day Brazil, this dark and thought-provoking story had me enthralled from the first page. A pharmaceutical researcher, Dr. Marina Singh, journeys into the Amazon on a quest to find her vanished colleague, and on reaching a remote jungle village whose residents harbor a potentially world-transforming secret, she’s forced to reckon with questions of morality, fertility, and her own complicated past. I loved the dreamy, almost hallucinogenic setting and the imaginative premise, all contained within Patchett’s trademark lyrical yet straightforward prose style. 

From Emma's list on women trying to survive cults.

Dr. Marina Singh is a very reluctant adventurer, sent into the Amazon jungle to find her former mentor, a pharmaceutical researcher who has gone rogue. I like a novel with a bit of mystery, and I like a character who rises to a challenge. Marina doesn’t do everything right; she can be pretty hapless. But she adapts and grows over the course of this absorbing book (it’s Ann Patchett, c’mon), and she makes adventure seem possible, even for the squarest of us.

From Maggie's list on female adventurers.

Want books like State of Wonder?

Our community of 10,000+ authors has personally recommended 100 books like State of Wonder.

Browse books like State of Wonder

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in medicine, scientists, and Brazil?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about medicine, scientists, and Brazil.

Medicine Explore 100 books about medicine
Scientists Explore 49 books about scientists
Brazil Explore 71 books about Brazil