Audio Book Extra
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
by Bryn Greenwood, Narrated by Jorjeana Marie
I don’t really know what caught my eye when it came to purchasing this book. It’s a rather plain cover—a night sky seen from laying down in tall grass with white block lettering—nothing fancy. I had never heard of the author before, so it wasn’t anything I was looking for.
I think what probably caught my attention was the title itself: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. What is ugly and wonderful at the same time? I ran a short list of them in my head: Thunderstorms. Chemo. A tantrum throwing three -year-old. Love. Death. A book?
I asked myself: could someone write a whole book on ugly and wonderful things? The answer is yes, and Bryn Greenwood did just that.
Bryn Greenwood wrote some of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things from personal experience. She grew-up with a father who was a large-scale meth maker, and lived with the constant flow of different people coming through her life because of her father’s money and/or the drugs, just as the main character, Wavy, does. Greenwood’s father, also like Wavy’s, ends up out of the picture, allowing a different path to emerge, permitting her to pursue college.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things received a lot of hate for the relationship between Wavy, and essentially her savior, Jesse Joe Kellen. Greenwood’s response to all this hate: “If you only read books that make you feel safe and comfortable, what’s the point of reading?” (Twitter @bryngreenwood, Oct. 6, 2016) And she’s right, what is the point of reading if you’re only going to be reliving the same life over and over, and it’s probably a life that closely resembles yours if you’re comfortable with it.
Wavonna “Wavy” Quinn is an eight-year-old daughter of a meth maker and his addict wife. She meets Jesse Joe Kellen—a mechanic and her father’s runaround guy—late one night after he crashes his motorcycle beside the field she’s laying while naming the constellations. With a twelve and one-half year age difference between them, the relationship starts out as a friendship with a slight obsession on both parts: Kellan is Wavy’s savior, and Wavy, just a little girl, needs someone to watch over her and make sure she gets to school.
As the relationship grows closer, they spend all their time together: Wavy spends evenings with him at the shop; Kellen spends the nights with her either in the field looking at the stars or sleeping fully clothed in bed with her. The obsessed friendship grows into a romantic physical relationship when Wavy is just 13 years-old.
One day, Wavy’s parents are found dead, and the gun used to kill them is found in Kellen’s shop. With all evidence pointing to Kellen, Kellen is arrested for double homicide. With their taboo physical relationship not being known, Wavy now must make a decision on how to save Kellen: stay quiet and let him go to prison for life for manslaughter, or speak up about their relationship and have Kellen labeled a sex offender and never be able to see him again.
The Review & The Wrap-Up:
A heartfelt story about a neglected child who must learn to grow up too quickly is one that pulls on everyone’s heartstrings. When this man comes into her life and makes it better, the heart soars for the two of them. It’s the relationship that blossoms from this meeting that almost creates more heartache than the original situation: is this man in her life because he loves her and she needs him, or is he there because he needs something and she’s the easy, naive one to give it to him?
It’s a question I asked myself over and over throughout the book. Why is this man in this child’s life; what is he getting out of it? Another question I asked myself over and over: Wavy was so young when she met Kellen, does she know the difference between parental love and romantic love? Both questions I went back and forth on.
I think at first Kellen sees this little girl and knows that she needs someone to take care of her. He knows her situation, he works for her father, and so he originally takes her under his wing and watches over her like a father figure. But Wavy is this beautiful, mysterious creature—the deathly duo to all men. She’s quiet, speaks only when there is truly something to say, and is incredibly intelligent. What wouldn’t allure any man to her? So, when Kellen falls for her, I didn’t have a hard time believing it. What I did have a hard time with—like most everyone else—was their age difference and the fact that she is a mere child, while he is a grown man. What Kellen did that won my respect was that he never acted upon those feelings for Wavy. Everything was of her own doing. And he had the straight head about how wrong their relationship was, at least how wrong it was to the rest of the world.
Wavy is a young child who not only has to take care of herself at such a young age, but her baby brother, and essentially her sick, addict mother as well. Then this man comes into her life that not only helps her with her adopted duties, but makes her feel safe, too. She develops this love for Kellen that I often wonder if it’s a love for a parent that she doesn’t understand as such because her relationship with her parents are so askew. Does a person really know what romantic love is at the age of eight? I, who just celebrated my 11th wedding anniversary, knew at the age of 15 that I loved my husband. Who am I to say someone just seven years younger doesn’t know what romantic love is? I worked with a woman who met her husband in the fifth grade and they’ve been together ever since. They celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary a couple years ago. I guess the old saying is true: Love knows no age.
There are so many ugly and wonderful things that happen in this book. I, like most other reviewers, focused mainly on the elephant in the room and addressed Wavy and Kellen’s relationship. But Greenwood did an amazing job at pointing out so many things that are wrong and ugly in peoples’ lives, but if you look at them closely enough just how beautiful and wonderful they truly could be. If you decide to read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, please keep in mind that you will probably be out of your comfort zone, but if you give the story a chance you will see just how beautiful all the ugly and wonderful things truly can be.
From one wine-loving bookaholic to another, I hope I’ve helped you find your next fix.
Love this book? Check out The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, also now a major motion picture.
The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette's brilliant and charismatic father captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want the responsibility of raising a family.
The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.
The Glass Castle is truly astonishing--a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family. (source)
Pair it with: Derailed Ale by Erie Brewing Company—this black cherry cream ale would pair perfectly with All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Its brewed with fresh, sweet black cherries and the finest malted barley to create this sweet, tart cherry ale with a creamy smooth finish. Sit down with this ale and “derail” while you read about all the ugly things that Wavy goes through. Then sober up and reflect about how wonderful they truly are.
Please raise a glass in thanks to my friend, Sheri, for helping decide on this delicious pairing.
Start a conversation: What do you find that is both ugly and wonderful and how does it affect you and those around you?
Have a book you’d like to suggest or one you’d like me to review? Please feel free to leave your comments down below.