Book of the Week: “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things”

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is a must-read.

Courtesy of Audible

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is a must-read.

Caroline Kaynor, Staff Writer

Bryn Greenwood’s All the Ugly and Wonderful Things blurs lines of every concept avid readers have come to know and love. Love, family, vices and growth come into question in a Midwestern meth lab background. The addicting discomfort Greenwood is able to elicit in this 365 page novel is nothing short of gripping. Greenwood’s portrayal of unconventional love in an unusual life will not only break your heart and put it back together, but do the same to your concept of love in its entirety. 

Wavy (short for Wavonna) is five when we meet her in 1975, but has already lived through a lifetime of trauma. Her mother, Val, swings back and forth between episodes of manic depression and ravenous drug addiction, while her father, Liam runs a meth lab out of a trailer. Wavy has spent much of her short childhood with her mother’s fingers down her throat, trying to “clean out the dirtiness,” most likely an agonizing habit stemming from Val’s meth addiction. As a result, Wavy spends much of her life not talking, not eating, and trying to protect her little brother Donal from their mother and the horror of the world of drug addiction that she represents. 

However, our story doesn’t truly get put into motion until Kellen, one of Liam’s assistants, crashes his motorcycle outside of Wavy’s house. As eighteen-year-old Kellen is laying beaten and broken on the dirt road, a now eight year old angel (or as Kellen mistakes her for, a fairy) not only saves his life but establishes a relationship that will change the lives of Wavonna, Kellen and everyone in their wake 

Kellen’s blossoming paternal relation to Wavy tugs at the heartstrings as he becomes the only person she will eat in front of. As Val has slipped into another state of depression, Kellen becomes the one to bring groceries, clean the house and register Wavy for school. He drops her off and picks her up each morning on the back of his motorcycle, which will come to be an unlikely staple of their relationship. Kellen, coming from a degenerate family of alcoholics, is able to silently relate to Wavy’s struggle of feeling outcast in a life that was so blatantly not meant for someone as intelligent and timid as her. Their fascination with each other is born out of their unusual, unfortunate circumstances and spans the course of Wavy’s adolescence. Greenwood’s spectacular use of adult lexicon as well as framing of scenes that walk the line of plationic, and, well, not, make it impossible for the reader to not just real one more page, eager to find what, inevitably, will go wrong.  

Kellen and Wavy’s relationship escalates in correlation with the meth lab background the story is coupled with. Wavy’s preadolescent crush on the man whose life she saved, the man who takes care of her, and the only person who has never hurt her, approaches discomfort as they both grow older. Kellen, careful not to ruin the relationship with the girl who saved his life, the girl who cares for him and the only person he has ever truly cared for, struggles to navigate the labyrinth that has become their intricate, undefined “friendship”. The relationship that started out innocently enough, both finding sanctuary in the other, has evolved into both finding sanctuary in their togetherness. Just as the reader overcomes the discomfort of the nature of their relationship, for reasons I refuse to spoil (because Greenwood’s writing is just too extraordinary to summarize), Kellen and Wavy are forced apart for years. Now at the age of college, the reader is able to reflect on the beautiful, shocking, and peculiar effects Wavy’s life of unconventional love, drugs and family have on her now adult life. 

If I have not convinced you already, the arch of Greenwood’s All the Ugly and Wonderful Things includes a car accident, a murder, a drug bust and a love you would not expect yourself to root for (but trust me, you will) until the very last pages. Perhaps it is the flagrant discomfort Greenwood purposely weaves into his thrilling story that forces the reader to reevaluate everything they thought that knew about the concepts that dominate Wavy’s life, if not our own. Do yourself a favor and next time you pick up a book, find rare comfort in the uncomfortable with Bryn Greenwood’s All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.