Review: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

“All the Ugly and Wonderful Things,” by Bryn Greenwood

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; August 9, 2016

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Synopsis: A beautiful and provocative love story between two unlikely people and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the Midwestern meth lab backdrop of their lives.

As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It’s safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.

By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy’s family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world

Next week, Bryn Greenwood’s “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” is being released and you do not want to miss this novel. Greenwood tells the story of Wavy, a young girl with drug manufacturing, dealing, and using parents. Wavy is sent to her aunt Brenda and then to her grandmother while her mother, Valerie, is in prison. Wavy almost never speaks, is tiny, and refuses to eat in front of others. After Valerie is released from prison, she has a new son, Donal, and Wavy returns to live with her. Not long after being reunited with her mother, Wavy’s father, Liam, resurfaces and takes them all back to his home. This is where she meets Kellen, an acquaintance of Liam’s, who has had his share of trouble but appears to be a good, loving, nurturing man. After wrecking his motorcycle near Wavy’s house, the two become inseparable. He cleans their house, brings groceries over, takes care of Donal, registers Wavy for school, takes her to school, and so on. This caretaker role continues for years with Kellen pretending to be her father at parent-teacher conferences, buying her shoes and clothes as needed, and helping her take care of her little brother. As time goes on, however, things begin to change.

Initially, there are subtle hints at Wavy loving Kellen not only as a caretaker but as a man, and for quite a while it appears that Kellen loves her as a daughter. Once Wavy enters her pre-teen years, we realize there are much deeper feelings between them than originally suspected. Before you get all grossed out and say that you don’t want to read this novel, let me put things into perspective. From the first page of this novel, Wavy has endured unimaginable abuse physically and emotionally. While reading there are memories and flashbacks from various characters that go back many years, explaining things such as why she doesn’t talk or eat around people. When eight-year-old Wavy meets Kellen and he begins taking care of her, he becomes the first person that she can trust and continues to build and grow that trust between them. This man becomes the only person that she can rely on and that has taken an interest in her well-being. Yes, her aunt Brenda tried but Wavy caused too many ripples in Brenda’s own family’s lives. Other people in Wavy’s life, various women associated with her Dad, are occasionally kind to her and offer advice on “girl” things, but often these women are under the influence of drugs and it results in being inappropriate. Without going into spoilers, the relationship between Kellen and Wavy continues to grow and change, but eventually there is a tragedy that strikes her family changing everything.

This is not an easy novel to read, but it is an excellent novel and absolutely worth reading. In spite of a great deal of the characters in this novel being drug users and/or criminals, the author developed quite complex characters with depth. Whether a good or bad character in the story, there are times that you will love and hate them, but also try to understand their actions and what motivates them. Several times while reading, my heart ached for this poor girl and her brother. I respected her self-sufficiency and intelligence but was saddened that she never got a chance to have a normal childhood. The jury is still out on my feelings about Kellen. At first, I found him a selfless hero, but my opinion changed about him multiple times throughout the novel.

Bryn Greenwood has created an exceptional novel, although the subject is intense and troubling. Her writing literally blew me away from beginning to end and every page contained something that moved me. The story and characters encompass raw emotions regardless of what is deemed right or wrong, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Learn more about Bryn Greenwood by visiting her web page.

*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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