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.
It has been well over a month since I read this book and I still think about with startling frequency. Technically it is a taboo romance. Very taboo. Very unsettling for a good number of people. It didn’t feel that way as I was reading, though. It was strangely beautiful and completely engrossing.
Consent has always and will always be a tricky subject to tackle; whether it’s in real life or in a novel. People will always argue that a person has to be a certain age to know the implications of their decisions. This book serves as an example that age isn’t always the only thing to consider in matters of consent. Maturity can vary greatly between two people. Some people are far older than their years and some are far younger than their age might suggest. Bryn Greenwood did an excellent job at illustrating this with the characters of Wavy and Kellen.
Wavy was so much older than she should have been, she was an adult when she was only five years-old; by the time she was 13 she’d lived through more people three times her age. Wavy dealt with traumas no person should have ever endured, raised her baby brother, and overcame a life that should have destroyed her; all before high school. Age was definitely not the way to determine Wavy’s ability to make decisions.
Kellen was the perfect dichotomy to Wavy’s world-weary soul. Though he was older and very much an adult, had performed horrific acts against other people, he still had an innocence, a naiveté that Wavy didn’t possess. His soul-deep innocence made him the only person able to help Wavy with the struggles she faced every moment of her life.
The characters in this book existed in a world so different than the one most of us live in, there is no way to apply our own experiences them. Every moment of their lives were filled with upheaval and strife, not one second of their experiences were what most people would consider ‘normal’, and in that stark difference of experience we can not possibly judge the things they did, the ways they dealt with their relationship.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things had several different points of view. Some were only a chapter long and others we returned to time and again. This gave a unique perspective on each of the main characters in the book. Getting to see Kellen and Wavy through so many different people’s perspectives gave a kind of understanding to their characters not often afforded to book characters. This made the experience completely unique and marvelous.
Bryn Greenwood blew me away with All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Her writing was engrossing; from the first chapter of the book I could feel the grittiness of Wavy’s world, her shame seemed to jump through the words and fill me in a way I am not used to experiencing. She made me hate and love, fear and hope, in ways, I am not able to experience often while reading. I can only hope that any further works Ms. Greenwood publishes are as powerful and visceral as this book was for me.
BRYN GREENWOOD is a fourth-generation Kansan and the daughter of a mostly reformed drug dealer. She is the author of the novels All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Last Will, and Lie Lay Lain. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.