All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

by Bryn Greenwood

When I am reading a book which I don’t connect to immediately, with which I feel ambivalence, it often takes a while to get into the story. At my age, and especially after a two year illness where I lost the ability to read, if the ambivalence with a book continues for about the first 100 pages, I abandon it. I might pick it up for a second look at a later point, but my patience for mediocrity won’t let me waste precious reading time on a book which doesn’t strike a chord.  blog

When I read the first few pages of Bryn Greenwood’s “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things,” I was immediately hooked. Her prose and mood entranced me, and I felt connected to the damaged child at the center of the story. Readers bring their own history into any book they read. For me, a damaged child, I was mesmerized from the start.

There are several primary characters featured in the novel, and Greenwood shifts perspective with each chapter. I’m still dealing with a healing brain, and have difficulty when the narrator changes. Each chapter would be titled with the name of the character, month and year. The time was the harder part for me, frequently requiring a look back at the previous chapter to see how far into the future we had jumped. This is purely an author’s device to move the story and offer alternate viewpoints, and for the average reader it might not cause a second thought. For me, it required some effort to keep track as the story developed.  I also found myself doing a lot of math.  There is an age difference between the two main characters, and after writing down the year they were born, I was forever subtracting that from the current date to determine their current ages.  This might seem meaningless, until you understand the plot when it becomes kind of important.

Wavy, the main character, is a young girl with an extremely dysfunctional family. Medicated Mom appears to rely on both big pharma pills for a mental health condition, as well as illicit drugs. Depending on the day, she is either a disinterested parent lying in bed, or a cruel abusive person. My heart broke for Wavy who dealt with life by remaining mostly silent and acting as parent to her younger brother. The lack of connection to her parents, and the missing necessary affection all children need, play a huge role in everything about “All the Ugly.”

Greenwood amazed me in her ability to write a story which any sane person would not connect to – yet I cried and felt emotion throughout much of this book.  I literally questioned my own internal sense of right and wrong as I became a cheerleader for a relationship which in any normal world is taboo, and wrong, and worthy of condemnation.  Yet, somehow, this author wove a spell and drew me in and had me rooting for a cause I NEVER in my life imagined I would support.  The talent of her writing is beyond my understanding.

I won’t give away too much of the plot, because I truly believe a book should be unwrapped and enjoyed by the reader making their own discovery and connection, but if you read the back of a book before opening its pages, the author herself tells you:

One night everything changes when she witnesses of of her father’s thugs, Kellan, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle.  What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things life has to offer.

I really enjoyed immersed myself in this book.  I couldn’t put it down, and it made me think.  A lot.

I won this book in a contest on twitter with no expectation a review would be left – but since I LOVED this book I felt compelled to review it.

State Challenge – no real location is mentioned in the book given the sensitive nature of the subject – the location wasn’t crucial.  The author tweeted a reply to my query and said she felt it took place in her state of Kansas.



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