Excerpt from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

A Novel

by Bryn Greenwood

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood X
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2017, 432 pages

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Print Excerpt

"Where are the rest of her clothes?"

"That's it," Sue said. "She came to us wearing a man's undershirt. Those are the clothes the foster family got together for her."

"I'm sure Amy has something she can wear for now."

Putting her hands on her knees to get to Wavy's height, Sue said, "Wavonna, I'm going to go now and you're going to stay here with your aunt. Do you understand?"

The grown-ups talked to Wavy like she was a little kid, but at five she made a very adult gesture: a curt nod to dismiss Sue.

After Sue was gone, the four of us stood in the entryway, staring. Mom, Leslie, and I at Wavy. Wavy seemed to have x-ray vision, staring through the living room wall at the Venus oil lamp that hung on the other side. How did she know it was there to stare at it?

"Well, why don't we go upstairs and get Wavonna into some dry clothes," Mom said.

In my room, Wavy stood between the two beds, dripping onto the rug. Mom looked anxious, but I was thrilled to have my real live cousin in my room.

"Here, Amy, why don't you help her unpack while I get a towel?" Mom retreated, leaving us alone.

I opened an empty drawer and "unpacked" Wavy's bag: another hand-me-down sundress as threadbare as the one she had on, two pairs of panties, an undershirt, a flannel nightgown, and a new baby doll, smelling of fresh plastic.

"This will be your dresser." I didn't want to sound like my mother, like an adult. I wanted Wavy to like me. After I put the clothes in the drawer, I held the doll out to her. "Is this your baby?"

She looked at me, really looked at me, and that's how I knew her eyes weren't brown. Her head moved left, right, back to center. No.

"Well, we can put it in here, to keep it safe," I said.

Mom returned with a towel, which she tried to put over Wavy's dripping hair. Before Mom could touch her, Wavy snatched the towel away and dried her own hair.

After a moment of stunned silence, Mom said, "Let's find something for you to wear."

She laid out panties and an undershirt on the bed. Without any embarrassment, Wavy peeled off the sundress and dropped it on the floor, before stepping out of her tennis shoes. She was almost as bony as the kids in the UNICEF ads, her ribs sticking out through the dry cotton undershirt she put on.

I offered her my favorite corduroy pants and plaid shirt, but she shook her head. With her thumb and first finger she plucked at an invisible skirt. Mom looked helpless.

"She wants her dress," I said.

"She needs something warmer."

So I went into my closet and found a Christmas party dress I hated the one time I wore it. Navy velvet with a lace collar, it was too big for Wavy, but it suited her. With her hair already drying to blond wisps, she looked like she had stepped out of an old photograph.

At lunch, Wavy sat at the table, but didn't eat anything. Same thing at dinner and breakfast the next morning.

"Please, sweetie, just try a bite." Mom looked exhausted and she'd only been a stay-at-home aunt one day.

I love my mother. She was a good mother. She did arts and crafts projects with us, baked with us, and took us to the park. Until we were practically teenagers, Mom tucked us into bed every night. Whatever Wavy needed, it wasn't that.

The first night, Mom tucked Wavy and me into bed, me with my Winnie the Pooh, and Wavy with the baby doll she said wasn't hers. As soon as Mom left the room, Wavy threw off her covers and I heard the thud of the doll hitting the floor. If something else had happened to make the room go dark—if Leslie had played a prank or the bulb had burned out—I would have screamed for Mom, but when Wavy turned off my nightlight, I shivered under my covers, afraid but excited. After she lay down again, she spoke. Her voice was small and quiet, just what you would expect from a tiny, blond elf-child.

Excerpted from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood. Copyright © 2016 by Bryn Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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