BookBrowse Reviews All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

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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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A provocative look at the love between two people in extremely tough situations.

Bryn Greenwood's debut, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, is a harsh, raw, and ultimately, truthful exploration of an unlikely pair as they find and desperately hold onto love. Our member-reviewers were challenged by this complicated, beautiful novel: 23 out of 28 gave it a 4 or 5 star rating.

The Ugly – Strung out, abusive, uncaring parents who also deal drugs and engage in "open" marriage among other things; relatives who are too eager to condemn and not eager to listen; law enforcement that wants to believe the worst; and more. The Wonderful – sincere friendship; true, faithful love; caring teachers; and more. Beautifully written with well developed, complex characters and believable, if truly awful situations, Bryn Greenwood's debut book is mesmerizing (Becky H). Both Wavy and Kellan are living proof that if a person has one other person to love and care about her it can literally save a life no matter what else happens (Julie M). A love story, a drama, even a little mystery (Roe P). I couldn't put this one down. The characters are unusual, but they feel like real people, and the story is compelling (Elizabeth K). I found myself asking, am I rooting for the love story of a tattooed bruiser of a biker and the way underage child of a meth dealer? Yes. Yes, I am (Ann B). This is about what trust looks like. What love looks like. And it's about what family can mean and look like to those who live on the periphery of love. This is a brave story to tell. One that brushes up against what most would consider immoral and indecent behavior. It was hard to read emotionally, and I am glad I did (Jan B).

Some of our readers feel it is critical to mention that the novel deals explicitly with an underage sexual relationship:

At the beginning, you may not want to continue reading All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Wavy is nearly mute, speaking monosyllabically, so traumatized by her bi-polar, self-centered and indifferent mother and her physically abusive meth-dealing father with his own harem. The only bright point in her life is Kellen, a giant, tattooed motorcycle mechanic twelve years her senior from his own alcoholic, abusive family. There are definite questions of whether their relationship is pedophilia, but the reader will have to decide what constitutes love after getting to know them and the situations in which they find themselves (Barbara G). What a difficult book to review. It began promising and was very well written but ultimately I could not get over the inappropriate and overly sexual relationship between a child and a very grown man. How can you root for a thirteen year old girl and a 25-year-old man to get together? (Sylvia G) At many times I was made uncomfortable by the burgeoning sexuality of Wavy, and the wildly inappropriate actions of Kellen and Wavy. Perhaps because their world was so devoid of a moral compass it was easier to deal with what in any other situation would be simply unacceptable. It was critical to have multiple voices narrating events to provide balance - sort of a "Greek Chorus" for the reader. I devoured this book - every ugly wonderful bit of it (Kenan R).

They all agree, though, that the writing is powerful:

Wow! Greenwood's style of writing allows you to feel as if you are inside of the skin of Wavy and Kellen and sharing their experiences. The book is raw, sensual and touching. I could not put it down (Diane H). Greenwood uniquely uses multiple narrators to tell her story, some in the first person, others in the third person. It is this writer's gift and allows the characters' stories to join and flow (Carol N). There is crude language and explicit sexual references, but if you can handle that you may find the story as gripping as I did (Carolyn L). Oh my, I thought I was going to dislike this book. I was very wrong, it is very well written, and the author knows her subject very well. The story line moved so fluidly, I found myself rooting for characters that I had no intention of liking. I couldn't put it down. The moral – don't rush to judge what you do not know or understand (Carm D).

Who do our readers believe would like novel?

This is an unusual book that will find its way to book groups eager to be challenged and willing to discuss drugs, law enforcement, child endangerment, felons, desperation, murder, family relationships, perseverance and hope (Becky H). Those who like stories of children surviving terrible childhoods in unthinkable conditions (think The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls) will enjoy this story (Carole R). Definitely a book to read if you're looking for a happy ending (Jill F).

This review was originally published in August 2016, and has been updated for the October 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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