Monday, September 5, 2016

REVIEW: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood


As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible "adult" around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.

Hardcover, 352 pages
Published August 9th 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books
ISBN 1250074134 (ISBN13: 9781250074133)

About the Author

BRYN GREENWOOD is a fourth-generation Kansan and the daughter of a mostly reformed drug dealer. She is the author of the novels All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Last Will, and Lie Lay Lain. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas. 

Check out the author's website
Like the author on Facebook
Follow the author on Twitter

My Thoughts
My mother always started the story by saying, "Well, she was born in the backseat of a stranger's car," as though that explained why Wavy wasn't normal.
We are introduced to Wavy as a five-year-old who has landed in her Aunt Brenda's house after both of her parents have been arrested. (Wavy's mother Val is a drug addict who cares about little in life, and her father Liam is a neglectful meth manufacturer and drug runner.)

At first glance, Wavy is an odd duck, rarely speaking a word, refusing to eat in front of anyone, and shunning any physical contact. She appears to "have a screw loose", but given time and patience a person will find that there is a method to her madness, and brilliance behind her baffling behavior. She's mature beyond her years, and possibly even a genius, and there is deep emotion bottled up under that still surface.

Things don't go well at Aunt Brenda's, whose rigid personality doesn't mesh with this odd duck who does nothing normally. With Brenda at her wit's end, it is Wavy's grandmother who steps up and takes in Wavy. She is everything Brenda is not, accepting Wavy for who she is, reasoning out what will work with her wacky behavior. Things are good, but they can't last. Wavy's mother gets released from jail, and it is back to an invisible life with a mentally unstable mother.

Once her father is released from prison, it isn't long before Wavy finds herself in the position of big sister to new baby Donal, and before long she is more of a mother to Donal than their own mother.

Wavy meets 24-year-old Kellen (her father's co-worker) on a day she thinks is her 8th birthday, but doesn't know for sure as she doesn't have a current calendar. Kellen wrecks his motorcycle after being startled by the beautiful little girl walking out of a field in the night, looking like an angel. A relationship quickly builds between them, as he becomes her protector and friend, and she becomes something of a caretaker of him, like a wife or mother.

Through the years, Wavy and Kellen are constants in one another's life-- two lost ships gravitating toward one another, one finding stability in the other.

Kellen looked at me for a second, not long enough. Liam made me invisible. I needed Kellen to see me.
Wavy teaches Kellen about astronomy, pointing out and reciting the names of the constellations in the sky.
Mr. Arsenikos said if you knew the constellations you would never get lost. You could always find your way home.
And Kellen becomes her home. They become family.

When Wavy is in high school, we learn where the title for the book comes from...

I mostly liked high school. I liked learning things. How numbers worked together to explain the stars. How molecules made the world. All the ugly and wonderful things people had done in the last two thousand years.
But uncertainty and loss continues throughout Wavy's childhood, and she eventually finds herself lost without Kellen.

This is a unique novel that you hesitate to even pick up, as the subject matter seems so distasteful, with what seems to be a predatory man and an impressionable young girl.
Interestingly enough, the tables are sort of flipped and Wavy is the predator and Kellen the impressionable one. She is an old soul, and while Kellen grounds her, I think that Wavy expands him and his world with her big intellect and powerful love. 

As I began the story, I was intrigued to see whether the author could accomplish making the male character likable, and their relationship acceptable. I thought she did a great job of walking a line, taking you to the edge of "unacceptable" and only making you "uncomfortable". However I appreciated what she said in response to a question about how "uncomfortable" this story can be:
Greenwood asks those who feel uncomfortable about Wavy and Kellen's romance to examine the root of their unease: "Did it make you uncomfortable, or were you made uncomfortable by the fact that you weren't really all that uncomfortable?" she asks. (From an interview with Bustle)
I must agree that I think that is one of the things that made me uncomfortable with this story-- it was how natural their relationship felt, how "right" it seemed, and then the mental reminder of how young this girl was and how inappropriate their relationship would be under any other circumstance. But in this circumstance, in the desolation of her heart and the emotional abandonment and abuse, it felt "right". I became grateful that Kellen was there for her, that he took care of her when no one else did.

My final word: I loved this story! I loved the author's writing style which was easy-to-read, but lyrical at moments. She took on the daunting task of how to make a man that could (or even should) be viewed as a pedophile and make him likable, and how to take an uncomfortable relationship and make it feel not only comfortable, but even fated and necessary. It makes you (or I think at least most) see that Kellen is not really a pedophile-- he is not a predator of children, not a threat to children, and in fact Wavy was more the predator, and Kellen her savior. And yet it still feels uncomfortable to say that, because my mind says "this is wrong" while my heart says "this is right". Kellen and Wavy were as fated as the stars they liked to watch and call by name. And in the end, their love feels not inappropriate or dirty or ugly, but instead it is one of the wonderful things.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

This book was was my August 2016 Book-of-the-Month selection.


No comments: