All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

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WARNING*** This post could potentially be spoiler-y, depending how sensitive you are to that sort of thing. Proceed with caution. That said, I feel like most people already know what the deal is with this book, so read on.

Cover image for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
Cover image for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

I was hesitant to read this book due to its subject matter. I knew that it involved drugs and the love between a grown man and a young girl, and I worried that it would be tawdry and disturbing. I read Lolita earlier this year, and while I recognize its value as a contribution to the canon, it still bothered me on a deep level. This did not have the same effect on me at all.

“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.“–

What sticks out to me most about this novel is the simple, matter-of-fact way that Greenwood tells her story. There are a lot of ugly themes in this novel, yet the author barrels into them head-on. For so many people, a life like Wavy’s is not unusual, and Greenwood doesn’t tell the story as if we should feel sorry for Wavy. She simply offers the story to her readers as is, for them to take or leave as they wish. Wavy is a beautiful character–a child scarred by her mother early in life, who never quite outgrows the fears that her mother instills in her at an extremely young age. She is fierce, though, and strong–so much stronger than her delicate, ethereal frame and features would suggest. Kellen is a lovable oaf, whose kindness belies his appearance. I don’t think I’ve found a character so endearing in a really long time.

Wavy and Kellen are a conundrum for me. On the one hand is the reaction that is pre-programmed into us, to know that sexual exploitation of a child is wrong. On the other, though, you have Wavy relying on and loving the only adult in her life who has ever accepted and loved her purely for herself. Kellen is the only person who has never tried to change her or coax her out of her ways. He simply loves her, and isn’t that what we all want? Someone who sees and loves us, and doesn’t try to change us? In the end, I accepted this story for what it was: one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read.

Was it disturbing? On a level, but one that was significantly less troublesome to my conscience than I expected. This is one of those “exception to the rule” situations that neither my heart nor my logical brain had trouble accepting.  So I was warned about this book, but I was not nearly as troubled by most of it as I expected to be.

I thought that this novel would be too much for me, which is why I passed it up when it was a Book of the Month Club selection. With its themes of heavy drug abuse, child neglect, and underage romantic interests, I was scared of it. When it won the BOTM Book of the Year award, I was, frankly, shocked that so many people could be moved by a story with such dark themes. If you, too, passed this up because you were afraid of it, I urge you to reconsider. Please read this book. It is unutterably lovely, and my poor words cannot do it justice.


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