Thank You to St. Martin's Press and Thomas Dunne Books for providing me with an advanced copy of Bryn Greenwood's novel, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT- Eight year old Wavy, and her younger brother, Donal, are the children of meth manufacturers, living in rundown house in the midwest. A very unlikely relationship occurs when Wavy rescues a mid-twenty year old man, Kellen, from a motorcycle accident. Kellen is an ex-con who is currently employed by Wavy's father. Meeting his bosses children for the first time, Kellen realizes that they are neglected, and he takes it upon himself to secretly take care of them, providing food, clothing, and making sure that they stay in school. Wavy, a hardened and distrustful child, begins to not only trust, but develops a romantic attachment to Kellen. Can, or even should, their love continue?
LIKE- All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is shocking and surprising. It's often uncomfortable. As a general moral and society rule, we are not supposed to support romantic relationships between adults and children. However, I found myself rooting for Kellen and Wavy's relationship to flourish. This moral dilemma was not what I expected, but made for a thought-provoking and memorable read. It would be interesting to have Greenwood's novel as a book club or classroom pick, as I think it would lend itself to a rousing debate. Her story thematically reminded me of Nabokov's Lolita, although Kellan is no Humbert Humbert. He's not creepy or obsessive, he simply loves Wavy.
It would be easy for the story to overshadow Greenwood's beautiful prose and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it here. Her writing style is lush and affecting.
DISLIKE- The first 3/4 of the story is a powerhouse page-turner, but then the last 1/4 read sluggish. Ultimately, I liked the very ending, but what immediately preceded it felt like filler.
I'm on the fence about the various points-of view. On one hand, I liked this device, as it allows us access to see the relationship from different perspectives. For example, I thought it was interesting to see how Wavy's cousins, who live in a normal suburban household, view her; this wild child relative. However, there were times when the POV switched to a minor character, like a police office, who was less connected to the main characters, and I wondered what their perspective really added to the story. I think less perspectives would have made a stronger narrative.
RECOMMEND- Yes. I admire Greenwood for taking on a subject that is sure to be controversial. All The Ugly and Wonderful Things is a world with vibrant characters that I won't soon forget. Greenwood's story packs a punch.