All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Published: August 9, 2016
Thomas Dunne Books
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
WOW! I don’t even know where to start!! This book may NOT for everyone, but I was hooked from the moment I started reading.
This book made my head hurt at times as it made me question so many different things. Parts of this book made me very uncomfortable. I honestly felt many different emotions while reading it. Emotional actually doesn’t even begin to describe how this book make me feel but it’s the first word that comes to mind.
The story and the characters got in my head and under my skin and I don’t see them leaving anytime soon.
At first I wondered about the title but honestly, it’s perfect for this book.
****Possibly some very minor spoilers****
The book begins in March of 1975 told from Amy’s point of view. Amy is seven when her five year-old cousin Wavonna Quinn (nicknamed Vonnie then Wavy) first comes to live with them.
Amy learns a lot about “The Tragic and Edifying Story of Wavonna Quinn” by eavesdropping on her mother when she talks to her book club friends.
Wavy hasn’t had an easy life so far and seen things that no five-year old should ever have to see. She doesn’t talk very much but she’s smart as a whip.
Thanks to an old neighbor, Wavy can identify all of the stars and constellations. It’s one of her favorite things.
“Mr. Arsenikos said if you knew the constellations you would never get lost. You could always find your way home.”
Wavy has some strange habits that drives her Aunt Brenda crazy but endears her to Amy. About six months later, after a late night wandering incident it’s decided that Wavy is a danger to her cousins and is sent to live with their Grandmother. We learn more about Wavy’s mother Val from Grandma Helen. She explains that nowadays, Val would probably be diagnosed with something, but at the time, they just lived with what they called her “germ problem” along with her other issues.
When she first brings Wavy home she realizes how very different her granddaughter is, but she accepts Wavy for who she is and they start to forge a tight bond. I LOVED her grandmother. Sadly, Wavy isn’t with Grandma for very long.
When her mother is released from prison she tells eight-year-old Wavy that everything is going to be different this time. For two weeks she’s “Good Mama” doing the laundry, cooking dinner etc. Then two weeks later Wavy wakes up to “Scary Mama” and realizes that nothing is going to be different. Except now she is not only taking care of herself but also her new baby brother, Donal. Their father, Liam is no real help either. He mostly stays down the hill taking care of his “business” and when he is around Wavy knows to stay out of the way. With Good Mama, Scary Mama, Happy Mama, or Sad Mama we quickly learn why Wavy doesn’t talk very often, why she doesn’t eat and why she won’t let people touch her.
One day Wavy is out in the meadow when “A Giant” drives by on his motorcycle. As he turns to look at Wavy he startles and ends up wiping out on the gravel road. Wavy sees something kind in the giant’s eyes and tries to help him. He’s an ex-con and associate of her father’s and his name is Jesse Joe Kellen.
Jesse Joe Kellen quickly realizes that Wavy is all on her own with parents who don’t seem to give a thought to her care. He quickly becomes everything to Wavy. He buys food, takes her to school and keeps her safe. As time goes by the friendship between this unlikely pair grows into much more.
“He smelled good. Sweat and motorcycle and wintergreen. No stinking weed smoke. No perfume. No sadness. He smelled like love”
Now this is where many readers may become very uncomfortable. It may make you uneasy at times and horrified at others but at the same time you may not feel like you would normally in this situation. But many readers may find it very hard to wrap their brains around certain parts of this ….love story.
We read how Wavy and Kellen view their relationship. But we also get to see how other people feel about it. Not just Wavy’s Aunt Brenda and her cousins, but also school teachers, social workers, judges, lawyers, drug dealers, jewelers and many others.
This truly is a shocking and powerful book that is controversial and will likely be the topic of a lot of debates. Possibly some very heated debates.
Was it all completely realistic? Maybe not. But in the end this is a fiction book and by remembering that it helped me to relax and just appreciate the story. Are my beliefs changed by what I read? Not really. Maybe this sounds strange and I don’t really know how to explain what I mean, but I just feel a bit different after reading this.
I was so invested in this book, nothing could pull me away (except when my Kindle died and I couldn’t find the charger). I couldn’t possibly guess how it was going to end. I didn’t care that it was four in the morning. I HAD to know what was going to happen next.
I am so impressed by this author. There were quite a few characters in this book, and they were all interesting and well developed. I had no problem following the story-line and keeping all of the characters straight. In my opinion the story was fantastic and very well written.
So yes, this book may not be for everyone but I’m really glad that I read it and I can’t wait to read more from Bryn Greenwood.
Thank you to NetGalley, Thomas Dunne Books, and Bryn Greenwood for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
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