All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Coming of Age Fiction
August 9, 2016
Review by Jen
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood is a tough book to take. And… I couldn’t put it down. The story is well written, the main characters are damaged, sad, and strong. Where to start?
First, the audiobook is just amazing. The voice actor, I think, has the best range of anyone I’ve ever heard. She was perfect.
Wavy is a child. She’s been bounced around between her aunt and her grandmother before going back to her parents. She’s the daughter of a meth dealer and an addict mom. Her dad runs with a rough crowd, repeatedly cheats on her mom and they live on a “ranch” with a meth lab. Wavy doesn’t talk to anyone. She’s incredibly bright, takes care of her younger brother, cleans her house, and lays low around her parents. People assume she’s not smart, or has a learning disability, and that’s why she doesn’t talk. They’re all wrong. There’s a lot going on inside Wavy’s head.
Kellen works for Wavy’s father. He is an adult. I can’t remember the exact age- but Wavy is maybe 6 when they meet. And Kellen is over 18. Kellen has a criminal record and comes from a broken family. His father was an awful person. Kellen is described as big, sloppy, and slow. He also sees that Wavy and her brother aren’t being cared for, no one is making sure Wavy goes to school, talking to her teachers, buying her appropriate clothing or that she’s healthy.
Wavy and Kellen become friends. It’s similar to an older brother – younger sister relationship. He stands in for her parents at teacher conferences. He takes her to school on his motorcycle. And, Wavy talks with Kellen. Not a lot, but he’s the only one who regularly hears her voice. Their friendship grows strong and starts to get uncomfortable. Wavy clearly develops a crush on Kellan. And Kellen doesn’t nip it. Nothing physical happens. Yet. But emotionally they’re closer to boyfriend and girlfriend. Wavy isn’t even 14 at this point. And Kellen is in his 20’s.
Here’s the thing…
This was an impossible situation. Just the absolute worst family life for Wavy. She’s surrounded by violent people, drug addicts, and hardcore criminals. I have complicated feelings about Kellen and Wavy’s relationship. The book never romanticized them. Not at all. They were in a terrible spot and survived. But, it still turned my stomach.
Wavy has a well-meaning aunt who thinks she is doing the right thing by Wavy. It just makes everything worse. There’s so much that happens; crashes, murder, prison, child abuse. Also, a warning…there are some fairly graphic scenes that aren’t meant to be sexy. And, they are far from it. But, they’re still descriptive and Wavy IS young.
This is a book that will stick with me. I couldn’t put it down, much less get it out of my mind. It’s a great, well-written book that made me feel and be grateful for my life. If you’re up for an incredible read that will get you all twisted inside, this is it.
So, how would you classify this book? Obviously, it doesn’t seem like a romance (unless a very dark one), but is it “women’s fiction”? Is it a very difficult-to-read coming of age story? What would be the youngest age you’d recommend for a reader: early or mid teens? It sounds like a good but challenging book, along the lines of Jennifer Hartmann or Jewel E. Ann.
I would say it’s a coming of age story. Very dark, complicated and appropriate for mid teens and up. I think you’re right that it’s close to something Jennifer Hartmann would write. This one still sticks with me!