Contemporary, Drama, Family, Fiction, Romance

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

I gave this novel to myself as a Christmas present because I read the premise before it was ever released and decided right then and there to go for it and give it a shot. I knew I would be increasing my book-reading burden but I was way too excited to care. Last night, when my family were asleep, and as my sister dreamt about Santa Claus coming with her presents (she’s very naive), I stayed up and finished this novel!

Wavy doesn’t trust people, especially since she is the daughter of a meth dealer. As she struggles to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy knows that there is only so much she can do to survive. Her only moment of peace can be found in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night, she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con, wreck his motorcycle. She saves his life, and in return, he shows her his heart of gold and protects her. This marks the beginning of a powerful connection between two unlikely people, that will make everyone question the ugly and wonderful things that life is all about.

This is a very difficult novel to read in terms of content. There are so many terrible things that this book makes you face. And in a way that is exactly what the author promised in her title. You see the ugliness that can mar a person’s life and you also see how there is beauty within it all. Some of the issues that are covered in this book are child abuse, drug abuse, and a romance that is bordering on pedophilia. Give me a minute to explain myself on that last point.

So, Wavy’s family sucks. That’s my impression of them from the start to the finish. Her father and mother don’t care about her at all, and it is her mother’s treatment of her that makes Wavy distrustful of others. Wavy also has suffered psychological distress growing up that manifests herself in odd behaviours, such as not eating in front of others and not talking to other, and not wanting to be touched by anyone. Wavy’s character made my heart ache because there was so much pain that she had to deal with. I have read many books where the author piles on the tragedy onto characters to the point where I have a headache and just roll my eyes in disbelief. This is not one of them. Nothing is overdone in terms of Wavy and her situation, and the writing is poignant in its depiction of Wavy’s life.

The book delves into the perspectives of various characters, which gives you a broad view of the lifestyle and relationship between Kellen and Wavy. I quite liked the effect and I enjoyed reading from everyone’s perspectives. Most of the voices did sound the same, but I was too engrossed in the story to really care.

The story itself begins slow but it reels you in and keeps you transfixed as the drama enfolds. And let me tell you, there is a lot of drama. You’ve got Wavy growing up and making adult choices as a teenager, you’ve got Kellen learning to care for her more deeply, and you’ve got the drugs and the abuse just continuing to escalate. I couldn’t tear myself away from this story and could feel my heart up in my throat by the time the story ended.

The one thing that is the main focal point of this story is the relationship between Kellen and Wavy. Now, Kellen is about 12 years older than Wavy, and in the beginning of the story, he pretty much takes on the role of caregiver. That’s perfectly fine with me. In fact, that is an amazingly wonderful thing for him to do and it made me love him. When he would buy her presents, I thought that was such a sweet and tender thing, and when one of the characters mentioned that he kissed her foot the way a father would for his daughter, it made my heart melt. It soon became apparent, however, that the author wanted to make this story go on a less chaste route. Kellen and Wavy fall in love. As in… sex and marriage and eros love. And this made me deeply uncomfortable. There are some reviewers who very strongly feel that this novel encourages pedophilia. While I don’t think that what happened between Kellen and Wavy was meant to come off that way, I also agree that I’m not too pleased with the way their “love” was portrayed. He is a good person, sure, and Wavy needs someone who will be good to her. But he is 25 and she is 13 and they shouldn’t be engaging in any form of sexual contact. And they do. And no matter how much I try to get over it, I just can’t shake off the feeling that there is something really messed up about it. Perhaps if she was older, or he was younger. Perhaps if she had grown up, and left that terrible home, and had some more experiences before deciding that this person is the one for her…. maybe then I would have felt a little bit more comfortable. But that didn’t happen, and I spent the entire novel not knowing if I should cheer their love on or hate it for its twisted nature.

In any case, this novel delivered on all counts. It gave me something twisted, it wrenched my heart, it shocked me and scared me and kept me in its thrall. This is not for the faint of heart, so if that’s you, stay away from this novel. But if you are willing to go in and give this story a shot, with no preconceived notions or biases, then please do so. The writing style, and the plot are worth it!

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