All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood
Genre: Literary Fiction.
Well, one thing puzzles me – this is described as a Debut book, and yet goodreads lists two earlier ones by Bryn?? Never-the-less its an incredible, thought provoking read, and surprisingly a beautiful romance IMO despite the circumstances.
I’ve seen comparisons to Tampa by Alissa Nutting, which I also enjoyed – as a story that made me think, made me look at the way society treats people, how a clever groomer manipulates children and even the story, to get the results they want. That definitely wasn’t romance for me, was very clearly abuse, and yet this one was a real love story for me despite the circumstances. Two very unique and individual novels but with similar themes, that play out so differently.
In Tampa the female teacher, married and in her twenties, grooms adolescent boys for her sexual benefit and once she’s done she drops them. She cares nothing for their feelings, its purely self gratification.
In contrast here Kellen is much older than Wavy but mentally young for his years, and Wavy is beyond mature from the harsh upbringing she’s had. It still doesn’t make things right, but its written in such a way that despite their ages they’re both such incredible characters that you can feel love, and actually sympathise with them. I really wanted things to work for them.
The only part I wasn’t really happy with was the ending, it just felt rushed after the rest of the book, and I felt I’d somehow missed a huge chunk of time with Wavy and Kellen, months were condensed into a couple of pages, where the events were very important to the story IMO and needed more.
So Wavy, she’s very young when we first meet her, drug addict, cuckoo mother, meth cooking, addicted, dealer father. Mum is obsessed with germs in food for Wavy and throws her meals in the bin, telling her about putting dirty things in her mouth, veers from “nice mama” to “nasty mama” in the blink of an eye, spends most of her time spaced out, and its left to Wavy to bring up her little brother. Her dad Liam doesn’t even live with them, but at the meth factory ranch down the road with various girlfriends, though is still married to her mum Val and visits for sex and to throw his weight around. Its a harsh upbringing, one where food is scarce, laundry is never done, and mostly there are strung out, addicted people round the home. One where seeing syringes and sex is all just everyday life for Wavy.
She reacts by not eating when people can see, scavenging rubbish bins later when no-one is around, or stealing food from neighbours in the early hours. She learns that one of the ways its best to be with Val is to say nothing so she doesn’t speak, hates being touched as she doesn’t know whether to expect a hug or a hit. You just feel so much for her.
In the early part of the book she’s living temporarily with Val’s sister and her family, but her issues cause so many problems there, and then when she returns she has a younger brother Donal, who she tries to look after. At eight she’s doing the housework, cooking and cleaning for Donal, and getting herself off to school. That doesn’t go well either – she’s odd and kids are cruel.
Then she meets Kellen, one of her dad’s go-to guys, a biker, gruff, scruffy and though he’s ( I think) around 22 he’s so much younger in many ways. He was brought up on the Indian reservation, and his family were always in trouble. He’s had a few scrapes but as he’s grown he’s tried hard to bring himself out of that place, to work, to get something better. He’s a mechanic and has a half share in a garage with the elderly owner, who seems something in him and helps him to make the most of it. He has his own house too, but the life as Liam’s hit man isn’t easy.
When he sees Wavy at first he doesn’t want anything to do with her, but seeing how awful her life is he slowly starts to help her. She’s entranced by the first person to treat her well, to listen to her despite the lack of words, to try to understand her and she does begin to talk to him when they’re along. Not much though, the bare minimum of words.
These two forge a really close friendship but from early on Wavy decides they’re going to marry, and she’s very set on getting her own way. She watches her mum, her dad and his girlfriends, and the other addicts always around – its not like she has a choice much of the time, they don’t care who sees them, and whatever they are doing when Liam feels horny. She’s like a little girl trying to emulate those girlfriends, trying to be grown up for Kellen, trying to make him love her.
Her parents don’t take her to school, ensure she has food, clothes, that school fees are paid etc, that’s all Kellen. And then That Happens…and things really take off!! Its harrowing in so many ways, you know its not right and yet Wavy isn’t like most teens, she’s had to grow up fast emotionally to cope and survive. Her aunt, Val’s sister steps in and boy – I so disliked her! She ostensibly wanted to “protect” Wavy, but I felt much of her actions and emotions came more from a place of guilt, from not doing more for her and Donal when she knew what kind of life they had, but wouldn’t push to take them in herself as Wavy caused such problems in her family when she had visited. She took the easy route and now feels guilty, pushing all the blame on to Kellen, ignoring all the good he did and how her sister and husband treated their children.
Its a story told from different points of view, Wavy, Kellen, Wavy’s cousin Amy, Amy’s sister Lesley and later Wavy’s room mate, and that gives us more of an insight into what they were thinking, and let us see other people’s reactions from different perspectives.
That’s really important in a story like this, that we look at issues from all angles and not just go with preconceived notions of what is right.
I loved the way it ended, but did feel that it was a bit rushed after the way the rest of the novel was so carefully drawn out, presented so we knew as much as possible. Its a great read, for me a romance even, despite their ages, and I would never have thought I could feel that way. Kellen didn’t intend to go so far, knew he needed to wait, but was so entranced by Wavy, and when she was set on a course she hated to be turned down and reacted in extreme ways, and he tried to prevent that when he could. It meant that so often he let her lead when he should have been turning her in a different direction, but I understood why he did, that it came from his heart, from a place of good intentions.
Stars: Five, an amazing, thought provoking story that just blew me away, kept me gripped wanted to see how things panned out, hoping, hoping and yet fearing the worst, it totally surprised me in my reactions
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher