All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

I want to start by saying that I will try and not write spoilers.

This book deals with some issues that may be shocking and jarring for some. In the event that I refer to them, I want to be sure I am clear. This book, is not for the faint of heart.

The book follows the life of Wavy Quinn, told from various viewpoints. We learn that she has a mother who makes questionable decisions. Decisions that land Wavy in the care of her aunt. Here, we learn mostly about her through her cousin and her grandmother. She is described as having odd habits and quirky ways, that neither really understands. All they know is how they try and connect with her, how they try to understand her.

When we start hearing from Wavy, some of these quirks and habits begin to make sense. And here is where your heart starts breaking. But it doesn’t break all at once, in this book. Rather, as in life, we go down that path slowly. One page at a time, so that when the heartbreak is complete, you didn’t even know it happened.

The author, Bryn Greenwood, takes us deep into the heart of neglect and abuse. Of children of drug addicts. Of drug users. Of drug dealers. We are immersed in a world where right and wrong blurs and choices that are seemingly black and white, turn out to be a muddled grey.

What I loved about this book is that the characters typically regarded as good, moral and just, are written in a way so that we also see their flaws. They aren’t necessarily “bad”. But they aren’t “good” either. Instead, we see humans. Flawed humans trying to do the best they can with what they have. And they make mistakes.

We see the struggle of relationships. What love should be stronger? The love of a brother and sister? A mother and daughter? A father and son? What happens when a stranger steps in and cares for a child more than the parent. What happens when the lines between that love begin to blur? What becomes right and what becomes wrong?

We dive into the world of sexual abuse. What makes a victim a victim? An assailant?

While there is an answer in this book, for these characters, you as the reader are simply left to ponder these questions.

What Bryn Greenwood has done, is build a story, through varying points of view that allow us to form opinions. She allows us to draw conclusions and make our judgments. And then she tears through those assumptions and decisions. You are left unsure of what happened. Unsure of what you should feel or think. All you really know, in the end, is that you aren’t really sure.

I love novels that explore life in meaningful ways. Life is messy, and hard, and so often we can’t see the blurred edges of right and wrong. We start down a path and do the best we can. But at what point should we change course? Alter our ways? When should we say we are sorry for not understanding?

It isn’t just parenting itself at the core of these questions. At what point does a child understand their own needs and wants and desires better than the adults tasked with caring for them? At what point is a child mature enough to make these fundamental and life-altering decisions?

This review may seem vague. However, the journey this book requires demands vagueness. I can’t give you an examination of the plot, without painting it with my own thoughts, my own biases. And so, instead, I give you the questions I am left with.

Books are meant to delve into a story. To take the reader into a different life. To view things we may not view in our own reality. Sometimes, we journey down darker paths into subjects murky and difficult. Sometimes, we are left feeling uneasy, unsure of what we witnessed.

The best books stay with us. They change how we think, who we are, how we feel.

If you are up for a journey that will challenge your ideas of what is right and what is wrong. That will challenge your definition of love and protection. Of loyalty and dedication. This book is for you.

*****This book does deal with topics of drug abuse and sexual abuse, so please proceed with caution.


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