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All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood, Thomas Dunne Books, 2016, 352 pp
Summary from Goodreads: 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.
My Review: (Originally published at Litbreak.)
Wavonna Quinn, known as Wavy, born in the backseat of a car to drug addicted and drug dealing parents, is the heroine of Bryn Greenwood’s third novel. That she fell in love at the age of eight with a man who was twenty and pursued him through years of trial and trouble is the (some would say) inappropriate subject of a novel so full of ugly and wonderful things. The truth is the inappropriate people in Wavy’s life were her parents and while doing the best she could, she found the perfect person for herself.
Besides being a druggy, her mother also suffered from a form of OCD that included a horror of germs. Wavy did not eat, except in solitude where no one could watch her, she could keep a place clean, and due to other traumatic times with mom, she did not talk. The celestial bodies were her company and she knew all the constellations by heart from a young age. Whenever her parents got violent with each other, which happened regularly, she mostly kept her little brother from harm.
The love of her life, Joe Kellen, is no prince charming. He’s been in prison, he is an enforcer for Wavy’s father, meaning he has to do what he has to do when a deal goes off the rails, he is part Native American with no living parents, and he comes riding into Wavy’s life crashing his motorcycle.
If you haven’t heard of the novel yet (that in itself would hardly be believable because it is a hot summer release), I think you are getting the picture. Except you won’t have the essence of it until you read it. Yes, Wavy’s life was trash, yes it is a lot to swallow, but it is in the telling that you see how such a thing could happen and not be ugly but wonderful.
Bryn Greenwood was born and raised in Kansas. There was drug addiction in her family. She is living proof that such a beginning does not rule out making a good life. Her first two novels, published by an indie press, were notice to me that here was a unique kind of novelist. She does not sugar coat anything but moves through her plots and creates her characters with huge amounts of humanity because she looks beneath the surface. Though she has said in interviews that Wavy’s story is not autobiographical, she’s got the credibility and she also can write books that you want to read in one sitting.
Having worked as a bookseller, being a member of several reading groups, and having read thousands of book reviews, I know that people read novels for all different kinds of reasons. Some readers just don’t like anything that would upset them or offend what they think is right or moral. Such a reader would not like this one. But I have one question and would be happy to get feedback on it.
In light of what seems to be a never-ending Presidential election year, with all its vitriol, hatred, conflict, and sensationalism, I have come to realize that the country I thought I was living in is not the country I am living in. I know that democracy is hard to practice but it seems to me that possibly we Americans have been just a tad delusional about our country. If we really are one nation (under God or not), indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, wouldn’t it be a good idea to know at least a little about all our citizens? How they live, what they deal with day by day, and who these many varied people are.
For sure drug dealers, child abusers, murderers, and thieves are not admirable citizens. Wavy’s mother and her sister, Wavy’s aunt, came from the same family and circumstances but grew up to live lives that were polar opposites. We don’t actually know how that happens but it does, all the time. Wavy’s intelligence and courage bring her through every terrible thing as also happens perhaps more times than we realize. When Kellen finds Wavy to be a person he can truly protect and love, he still has to go through unthinkable anguish to reconcile what his self worth requires. Even if I hadn’t loved the novel, which I did in a huge way, I think I could have learned some new ways of looking at the problems confronting Americans every day.
Of course, I would never dream of forcing someone to read something they did not want to read. I just wish everyone would read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.
Bryn Greenwood's earlier novels:
(All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)