Saturday, August 20, 2016

Book Review: All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Release date: August 9th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 352
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (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.

I had no idea what to expect from this book when I requested it from Netgalley for review. I had not heard anyone talking about this book yet, but after looking for it from Twitter, I noticed that it has been generating buzz for a while now. I usually wouldn't pick books like this (literary fiction/adult fiction) up as ARCs, but I am happy that I did because this book was freaking awesome - beautiful, haunting, disturbing, lovely, and so much more.

Wavy's father Liam is a drug dealer. Her mother Val is only one of Liam's many conquests, a woman who is sometimes herself and sometimes like a completely different person. As an eight-year-old big sister Wavy is the only one taking care of her little brother. She trusts no one, talks very little and eats in secret. For her whole life her mother has told her that she is dirty and that nothing really belongs to her. 

Due to Liam's drug dealing and her mother's desire to keep tabs on Liam wherever he goes, Wavy and Donal are occasionally dragged to Val's sister's Brenda's place. Brenda has two daughters, Amy and Leslie (I want to think that the author has been watching Parks and Recreation and has picked these names from there - the main character Leslie is played by Amy Poehler) and a husband who is not very enthusiastic about the idea of raising the "white trash" children of Val's. 

Everything changes when Wavy meets Kellan, a twenty something ex-con who works part-time for Liam. Kellan and Wavy form a bond that is protective and loving. Eventually, their relationship develops into something more romantic. The problem is that Kellan is an adult, whereas Wavy is just a child. Though Wavy says that she loves and wants to be with Kellan, does she really understand what she is agreeing to? 

All The Ugly and Wonderful Things covers a number of years from 1975 to 1990 from multiple point of views. Throughout, the author keeps the reader somewhat distanced from what is happening - you witness, rather than experience. The novel shows rather than tells - like a good film, it is atmospheric, detailed and well put together without being overly emotional or melodramatic. Due to the multiple narrators, you never really have a chance to fully identify with any of the characters and the multiple point of views fragment the story in interesting ways. Wavy and Kellan are at the center of the story and much of the events of the novel are build around them. It is extremely interesting to read different accounts and reactions to what happens between Kellan and Wavy - the novel does not offer the "right" interpretation but rather gives the reader a chance to make her own conclusions.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is essentially the love story of Kellan and Wavy and t
hrough different point of views, we get different interpretations and reactions to that love. Due to their age difference, their story is at parts extremely disturbing and graphic. What they share is both ugly and wonderful, both disturbing and healing. Throughout this novel my feelings and thoughts about them changed a number of times, and I think the brilliance of this novel hides exactly in that - there is no set feeling you are supposed to feel (like pity or disturbance) but rather you go through a roller coaster of emotions while examining your own morals, prejudices, etc. It is also a stories of different kind of families and an extremely interesting study of family dynamics and responsibility.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is written extremely well in an engaging manner that made it very difficult for me to put it down. Greenwood manages a fairly large set of characters and a long span of time well and in a coherent manner - at no point I felt like there were too many characters to follow and rather thought that they all provided something to the overall story. I am so happy I decided to pick this one up and highly recommend that you all add this to your TBRs if the synopsis catches your interest even a little bit. 


(the quotes are from the ARC of the novel)

Most people look at you like nothing, but the way she looked at me... it was like we were in the meadow again. Like I was important. People don't usually look at me like that.

Right up until that moment it was sweet and funny. Odd couple that they were, they had a real connection. Then he tugged her boot off and kissed the bottom of her bare foot. I could see him doing that kind of thing to his own kid, but she wasn't. She was somebody else's little girl. 

That was what I imagined it was like being dead. Feeling empty with the taste of dirt in your mouth.

In the meantime, the things that hurt other people healed me.

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