Review: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Title: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
Author: Bryn Greenwood
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction
Source: Free ARC from St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books

Rating: A+

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Review: AMAZING. Controversial, provocative, daring, and so f’ing good. Trying to sort my feelings about this book and my brain is about to explode. Because I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to feel disturbed or offended or have some sort of righteous indignation. But I don’t. And I’d be happy to delve into the reasons why, but then I’d be writing an essay not a review. So, for now, the book.

As childhoods go, Wavy’s is pretty messed up. A mentally ill mother who can’t stay on her meds, a father who runs a huge meth-lab, sleeps with a bunch of different women and lives separately in a trailer on the property, and basically no one is looking out for Wavy and her little brother Donal. Her mother’s sister steps in occasionally, but her husband doesn’t want the responsibility, or for the mess that is Wavy’s life to negatively impact their children. So Wavy is on her own to care for herself and her brother. Until Kellen.

When Wavy is 8, Kellen – who works for her father – has a motorcycle accident, and she saves him. And from that point on, he makes sure she and Donal are taken care of. They become best friends, and as the years pass, they become more. Their relationship is complicated and leads to all sorts of tragedy for both of them. But they continue to save each other, despite all obstacles.

The author does a beautiful job, genius really, of telling the story in a way that shows you, really shows you, all of the complexities of the situation. As a reader, your rational brain is screaming that this relationship feels creepy, that they are too close for people with such a wide age gap (I believe he is 21 and she is 8 when the accident occurs), that you can see where this is going and it doesn’t seem right. But I think one of the major points of this book is that things aren’t always black and white, and frankly, our view of the world is limited by our own experiences and the degree to which we subscribe to social rules.

Look, it’s an uncomfortable and weird subject, and I get why some find it repugnant and disturbing. As someone who was once a 15 year old dating a 21 year old (we were together for 3 years, I might add), maybe my perspective is a little more open than the average person. And while I didn’t have Wavy’s brand of messed up childhood, I didn’t grow up in some middle class neighborhood with two happily married parents and money to spare either. Whether we like it or not, our life experience colors our perceptions of right and wrong. And as a society, we feel like we have to draw a line somewhere (we do). But that line has to be flexible. Intent matters. Circumstances matter. The individuals involved matter. People are complex so situations involving people are complex. 13 year olds are people. Very, very complex people.

So, I get the controversy, and some people won’t be swayed, and that’s fine. But I loved Wavy and Kellen, and I was cheering for them. Sorry not sorry.

For me, reading serves many purposes, two of which are a) finding some of myself inside the story (oh, I SO did!) and b) pushing me to think beyond my own perspective and experience (check!). This book was a slam dunk for me.

Top 5 for the second half of the year, at least top 10 for 2016.

An astonishing, heart-wrenching read.

2 Replies to “Review: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood”

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