All the Ugly and Wonderful ThingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“He squeezed me tight, almost as tight as I needed. Tight enough to let me know he wasn’t too afraid of Liam. Tight enough to tell me I was important to him. A little tighter and I would know I was more important than anything else. That was what I wanted.”

Darkly disturbing. This is a tale of love between and adult man and a little girl and how it grows into a romantic love story. It takes place over 15+ years and is uncomfortable and even graphic at times. It is about dark childhoods, family, drugs, and abuse. It is about how a relationship that starts from kindred compassion and absolute loneliness can turn into two survivors holding onto each other for dear life.

I am reeling. I cannot claim how I feel about this book. Told from multiple perspectives, you get inside each character’s head and find yourself feeling FOR them. From Wavy to her teachers to Kellen to her aunt to her cousins…you hear from them all and get to understand how two little kids and an adult who really isn’t can become lost by the system and even their own choices. However much I do not know what to feel about this novel, one thing I do know is that FEELING IS WHAT I MOST CERTAINLY DID.

Mama scared me. She was different people. “Wait,” Wavy said. Her rule was Don’t talk to Mama until she talks to you. Wait until you know which Mama she’s going to be. If Mama said, “Oh God, I’m so alone,” it was okay for me to hug her.

Mama is a psychotic druggie and daddy is an abusive womanizier who not only does the drugs, but cooks and deals them as well in his own little meth lab. When both are thrown in jail Wavy briefly meets a grandmother who grows to love her before an untimely disease and her mother’s release from jail send Wavy back into the messed up world the police (almost cruelly) drug her from in the middle of one horrible night. Crazed from the drugs and abuse, the mother heaps emotionap neglect, physical abuse, and phobias on Wavy’s head making her scared of talking or touching. And then her mama has a baby and leaves it to Wavy’s care when she herself is only 8y old.

“After Liam and Butch took Kellen away, I thought about how he left spaces for me when he talked. If I saw him again, I decided I might put words in those spaces.”

A motorcycle accident and a strong desire to see if the little fey girl who had helped him really existed brought Kellen into Wavy’s messed up world. While he worked for her father part-time, mostly Kellen was goof at fixing engines. And when he realized the situation this little giro and her baby brother were living in, he was hooked. Having grown up abused and alone he could not just leave this little girl who would not speak and was afraid of touch to hold it all together.

“Truth was she took care of him as much as he did her. There was a few times when he was younger that I thought to myself, One of these days, he ain’t gonna show up for work, ’cause he’ll be at home with a gun in his mouth. I had an uncle did that. Jesse Joe was a man with a deep streak of lonely, until Wavy came along.”

Over the years it becomes easy for him to confide in this little girl who says so little and her to trust and love the man who sees that she is cared for (he does everything from interfere with her father’s abuse to pay for registration for her to go to school) and keeps a safe place for her.

This is not a tale of child molestation. The love this man had for the girl was not driven by some twisted sexual desire. In fact, he only started seeing Wavy in a romantic love when she herself made an issue of it, although he knew he was staying in a shitty place in a shotty situation so she would not be left alone.

While darkly beautiful, this tragic tale is not told in a way that takes no sides. From the constantly shifting perspectives the author manages an unsympathetic capture of complex issues, simple facts, and heart-wrenching actions. The author managed to do an excellent job of showing and did not tell us a damn thing. We are left to discover our own emotions, however confused and devastated they may be.

Recommened for those who are not squeamish and like a darkly emotional reading challenge thay involves beautiful prose and complex characters.

There are a dozen beautiful lines in this book to leave you with, but I think that I will leave you with two: one for devastation….

“You can look up the word keening in the dictionary, but you don’t know what it means until you hear somebody having her heart ripped out.”

and one for hope…

“She gave him her special smile, going softer. The way candles are softer than lightbulbs.”

You will need both.