In the first part of the first chapter of “On Ordeal: Ronan, Jr.,” Ronan!!!!! Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of grief, death, and convalescence.
I have barely started this story, and it’s clearly so, so different than the other two Ordeal stories, which makes me VERY EXCITED. Even more so than Roshaun’s story, I feel like Duane just dropped us into Ronan’s life, but not before an important framing scene. Y’all: THE ONE’S CHAMPION. This is going to tell us the details of how the One’s Champion came to exist inside Ronan, right? We know some of it, but as far as I can tell from this excerpt, Ronan does not know wizardry exists, and he certainly isn’t aware of the Champion. But that prelude… whew, the Lone One and the Champion have both singled out Ronan as an important wizard. LET THE GAMES BEGIN.
But those games don’t mean anything to Ronan, and if there’s a hint of what’s to come, it’s only in the brilliantly-placed Harry Potter joke. WHICH IS SO GOOD, Y’ALL. HIS PARENTS HAVE NO IDEA THAT A VERSION OF IT IS BASICALLY GOING TO HAPPEN. So, rather than talk about wizardry, we get a portrait of Ronan’s life from his routine. There’s a normality to it at times. He’s anxious about upcoming tests. You can tell there’s some tension over his family’s ability to pay the bills. But in every sense, the Nolan family only differs in specifics. As a whole, they’re just like anyone else. They’re just trying to eke out a living in the world, and it’s clear that they love one another. You don’t see the same friction, for example, as we did between Roshaun and his family, where societal pressures and internal conflicts keep a distance between parent and child.
I’m guessing that this is all intentional, as I can see how Ronan’s coming problems are going to pull him out of his comfort zone. He’s going to soon be living a life that is anything but normal, at least for non-wizards. However, I don’t want to ignore that there is a part of Ronan’s life that might feel familiar to some people, but which isn’t necessarily common. I got the sense that Ronan doesn’t talk about his Nana all that much except with his Mam and Da. His routine with her is both touching and sad, and I say that as someone whose father went into convalescent care at our home before he died. The first detail that was most striking to me was:
…there was now that plasticky medication-bottle smell and the sharp wintergreen scent of the salve the carer used on her joints; the smell of personal hygiene that wasn’t exactly as great as it once had been because the shower was out of the question for Nan more than a few times a week now. And under it all, the smell of age, and helplessness.
This is truly one of those things that’s hard to understand unless you’ve experienced it, and Duane does a fine job being so very honest about it. Ronan feels embarrassment of this: over his Nan’s health and over his own reaction to that. And it’s compounded by his genuine love for her. Duane depicts a loving, witty relationship between these characters, and part of Ronan’s emotional state is probably due to dread. When someone is slipping into old age, or when their health has gone on the decline, it’s easy for us to assume the worst. At least, that was the case for me. It’s always been hard for me to not think of mortality and the fragility of life in situations like these. But Ronan does his best, and that’s the overarching vibe I got from the start of this story: he’s really trying! This is a difficult thing to deal with at any age, but at thirteen, it’s intense to have to cope with someone’s health so frequently.
So it’s gonna be real interesting to see how Ronan reacts when his life becomes INCREDIBLY not normal, y’all.
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