All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
Author: Bryn Greenwood
Nothing controversial to see here, keep moving.
I don’t like to read what a book is about before starting it. Most fiction books I read are because somebody else recommends them, or I’m a fan of the author. With this one, I picked it up because it was picked by Emily May as one of her favorite books of the year for 2016. Through about the first 20% of the book I was thinking it was a story about a troubled girl that was well written from different perspectives, but also fairly safe.
You can not discuss this book and whether you enjoyed it or if others would without getting into the relationship between Wavy and Kellen. When the book begins, Wavy is about six years old and comes from a home where her dad is a meth dealer and her mom is a basket case drug addict. Kellen is a giant of a man in his early 20’s who rides motorcycles and is Wavy’s dad’s enforcer and mechanic. The two meet and fall in love. **Slight spoilers follow**It gets physical when she’s a pre-teen and sexual when she hits 13.**End of spoilers**
The basis for the relationship between Kellen and Wavy is that nobody understands Wavy except for Kellen. She doesn’t talk, seemingly never eats, and has a habit of running off at night or occasional breaking and entering. Adults are all mean to her, and her only other person she talks to is her younger brother. Kellen is kind to her, protects her, makes sure she goes to school and gets food. Because of his size, most strangers think that he is her dad, and he certainly fills a
parental role in her life as well.
The best thing Greenwood does with her writing is never tell the reader how to feel about what’s going on. Some characters are disgusted, others are supportive of this weird and illegal relationship. The perspective characters range from family members and friends of Kellen and Wavy to people in the legal system to Kellen and Wavy themselves. The book also takes place over many years, so by the end of the book when Wavy is legally an adult the relationship may be viewed differently by the reader.
I enjoyed reading this book, mainly because I didn’t know where it was headed and it felt like the author was confident enough to make bold and unpredictable choices. I can’t help but wonder if a male author would have been received/reviewed more harshly with the same plot Nabokov didn’t publish Lolita in 2016 America. While I personally never came around to supporting the relationship between Kellen and Wavy, I don’t think you need to do to enjoy the book.