As a newbie to BOTM, my monthly boxes almost always included the books that seemed all the rage in the #botm Facebook groups and discussion boards. This is how I ended up with All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood in my TBR pile. When I read the synopsis, I moved it right to the front of my pile.
Summary: Wavy, the young daughter of meth dealers, does not trust anyone. She looks out for herself the best she can, and takes care of her baby brother, Donal. The only thing that brings Wavy happiness is staring up into the night sky, admiring the stars and constellations. One night, one of her father’s thugs, an ex-con named Kellen, crashes his motorcycle on the dirt road to her farmhouse, and what follows can only be described as a “beautiful and ugly” tale of love and trust between two otherwise discarded outcasts.
My Review: When I read the summary of the book, the obvious thing that stuck with me was a thug ex-con falling in love with a child. After all, Wavy is eight years old when Kellen crashes his motorcycle and she comes to his aid, kindling the start of a strange but pure friendship between the two. Wavy is alone in the world, and her sole purpose is to protect and care for her baby brother. She is neglected and abused by her manic depressive mother, her father is in and out of jail (and when he’s out, he’s preoccupied with other women across the farm, aka meth compound). Wavy learns from a very young age to fend for herself. To see her unravel the tightly-wound exterior she’s worked so hard to build up and slowly let Kellen in was a beautiful thing.
Their “relationship” starts out innocently, as a friendship. Kellen cares for Wavy like a younger sister: he protects her, he explores with her, he brings her and Donal food. Kellen has also been cast-out from society. He has a bad habit of getting drunk and fighting (and usually winning, because he’s described as a very big fellow). He needs Wavy to love and care for just as much as she needs him. You can see their relationship blooming from a mile away, and the way it developed–slowly, over years, from protection to friendship to romance–feels natural as you read the story (if not a little messed up, because Wavy is so young when she clearly feels romantic feelings for Kellen).
I had a hard time being disgusted by their relationship as I’m sure I should have been. Kellen is in his mid-to-late 20s, Wavy just 12-13 years old. But all the things they’ve been through, both separately, before they met one another and then together, somehow made their relationship feel so natural. It is also mentioned/insinuated that Kellen may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but I didn’t personally feel he was slow. He was an oaf: Wavy’s protector and best friend, in whatever form Wavy needed. If anything Wavy pushes their relationship past the boundaries of friendship time and time again, when Kellen tries to hold off until she is older.
Conclusion: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood was a five out of five stars for me. Wavy and Kellen’s story is tragic and beautiful. Wavy’s story is tragic from the beginning, and I couldn’t put this book down. Greenwood examines the many forms that love can come in–the ugly and the beautiful (sorry, I had to). I had a book hangover after this one. I was so invested in their journey. This is a must read, albeit not a light one.