Are you looking for a well-written novel to read that pulls you in right away and is controversial? All The Ugly and Wonderful Things is a novel with several disturbing story lines. There is drug use and violence centered around a couple that neglects and manipulates their children. An inappropriate affection forms between an 8-year girl and a 21-year old man. Drug trafficking and dealing are covered up by a body shop that the kids hang out at. Bryn Greenwood’s characters Wavy and Kellen seem to be the only ones that can find beauty in the chaos and dysfunction that plagues their lives.
Wavy is the daughter of a meth dealer and a user. Her parents are the extreme version of neglectful, abusive, and manipulative parents. Surrounded by dealers, users, criminals, and other undesirables, Wavy is more adult than any other child you would meet. She learned from an early age that nothing really belongs to you, so she doesn’t allow herself any kind of attachment to materialistic things, such as dolls or blankets, like other kids do. However, there is always an exception when it comes to her younger brother, Donal, who Wavy always tries to look out for, and for Kellen, who is 13 years older than her and the only person to show her affection despite being.
In Wavy’s world she is surrounded by dysfunctions, violence, and debauchery. Her father, Liam, doesn’t hide his unfaithfulness to Wavy’s mother, Val, and his rampant drug use and violent temper. Anyone in Liam’s path of destruction will feel pain. Wavy finds that spending time star-gazing in a meadow to be calming, which is how she meets Kellen. Despite being an adult man while Wavy is a school-aged girl, Kellen is the only one that seems to care about taking care of Wavy and Donal. Kellen takes her to school, picks her up at dismissal, attends teacher conferences, makes sure Donal is clean and fed, and occasionally cleans their farmhouse. A bond forms between Wavy and Kellen that most just laugh off or call a crush, but Wavy is not deterred in waiting for the right time to make Kellen hers and to take care of Donal.
As if their relationship isn’t controversial enough, a horrifying double murder rips Kellen away from Wavy and Donal. Their Aunt and Uncle mean well and try to make the right decisions for Wavy and Donal, but is it actually better for them? This tragedy doesn’t end for Wavy there. The only thing she has left, her little brother, is eventually taken from her too. Crushed and alone, Wavy struggles but is never distracted from getting back to Kellen and finding her little brother again.
Wavy finishes high school and attends college, where she meets her roommate, Renee. While in college, Wavy researches and fights for Kellen’s freedom. When he eventually gets it, there are conditions to his release, one of which is to have no contact with Wavy. Even though he is conflicted with seeing her, Wavy is confident and convinced that they are still meant to be with each other. She will have it no other way. Now that she has Kellen back after so many years without him, will she ever see her brother again? If she does, will he remember her? How damaged will he be? I won’t spoil the end, but it is an ugly and wonderful thing.
This book has been met with criticism as well as applause. The idea of pedophilia is as obvious and child abuse in this book. To put it in perspective, Wavy is about 5 when she first meets Kellen, who is 19. Eek! There are not too many people who would approve of that relationship. Yet, after reading their story, you quickly forget their ages and can feel how protective they are of each other and how much each adores the other. No matter how you feel about the relationships in this novel, this is a must read!