Summary and book reviews of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

A Novel

by Bryn Greenwood

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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Book Summary

A beautiful and provocative love story between two unlikely people and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the troubled Midwestern backdrop of their lives.

As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It's safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.

By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy's family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world. A powerful novel you won't soon forget, Bryn Greenwood's All the Ugly and Wonderful Things challenges all we know and believe about love.

31 Books Bringing the Heat this Summer —Bustle
Top Ten Hottest Reads of 2016 —New York Daily News
Best Books of 2016 —St. Louis Post Dispatch

1
AMY

March 1975

My mother always started the story by saying, "Well, she was born in the backseat of a stranger's car," as though that explained why Wavy wasn't normal. It seemed to me that could happen to anybody. Maybe on the way to the hospital, your parents' respectable, middle-class car broke down. That was not what happened to Wavy. She was born in the backseat of a stranger's car, because Uncle Liam and Aunt Val were homeless, driving through Texas when their old beat-up van broke down. Nine months pregnant, Aunt Val hitchhiked to the next town for help. If you ever consider playing Good Samaritan to a pregnant woman, think about cleaning that up.

I learned all this from eavesdropping on Mom's Tuesday night book club. Sometimes they talked about books, but mostly they gossiped. That was where Mom first started polishing The Tragic and Edifying Story of Wavonna Quinn.

After Wavy was born, Mom didn't hear from Aunt Val for almost five years. The first ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. From the first moment we meet Wavy, her life is filled with rules. Most are her mother's rules, but some are hers. What rules are holding Wavy back and which ones does she use to construct a sense of safety? How do the rules change as she grows up?

  2. Wavy's fears and her efforts to resist fear are major themes in the story. How does the refrain "nothing left to be afraid of" guide Wavy's life?

  3. More than once, it's remarked that the kitchen door of the farmhouse is unlocked, and Wavy points out that there isn't even a key to that door. On a practical level, what does it say about Wavy and the people around her that this door is never locked? As a metaphor, what does it tell us?

  4. Kellen is a murderer and Wavy knows this from an early ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

As you were reading, did you find yourself wishing that Wavy and Kellen's relationship would remain platonic? What do you think would have ultimately happened to Wavy and Kellen if the relationship had remained platonic?
I think I wanted the relationship to remain platonic at least until she was an adult but their love seemed genuine and understandable. The author took the reader to an uncomfortable place on purpose. Is there ever a situation where this is acceptable... - alisonf

Considering their backgrounds, how likely are Wavy and Kellen to succeed in creating a healthy relationship and a "normal" family?
I think they are survivors and remarkably kind to one another. Their love is multidimensional and she will not leave her husband or brother behind. They being the best out in each other and will make it. - alisonf

Did you view Wavy as a child or an adult? How about Kellen?
I think age wise Wavy was a child but one who had little childhood. Circumstances made her at least act older than her years. Age wise, Kellen was an adult, and in someways acted as one but the core of him was a child. In the end, they were both ... - pennyp

Did your views change with regard to what constitutes the nature of consent and, in the author's words, "a child's right to "bodily sovereignty?"
My opinion changed in this case in regard to the specific situation. I don't believe children in general have the maturity to make these decisions. That being said I worked with delinquent children for years. In a few specific cases, the best corse ... - pennyp

Do you sympathize with Amy's point of view? Did you ever do something you considered risky because you were afraid of missing out?
I think that Wavy's behavior was a direct result of the abuses she suffered. Amy going alog with her was for the thrill I am sure. But, I just found it hard to believe six year olds were wondering neighborhoods late at night. Sympathy for Amy wasn't ... - JulieAB

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This is a memorable coming-of-age tale about loyalty, defiance, and the power of love under the most improbable circumstances.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Greenwood's powerful, provocative debut chronicles a desolate childhood and a discomfiting love affair... Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental.

Author Blurb Brunonia Barry, New York Times bestselling author of The Lace Reader
An emotionally resonant novel with an unlikely cast of characters you won’t soon forget. Bryn Greenwood’s unique voice and her understanding of human nature offer an amazing tale of family, loss, and love that’s as unpredictable and inspiring as love itself.

Author Blurb Jillian Cantor, author of Margot and The Hours Count
Achingly raw and beautifully written, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is both a hypnotic coming-of-age story and a heartbreaking tragedy. Greenwood’s emotional prose and her well-drawn characters immediately drew me in and kept me captivated.

Author Blurb Robert Ferrigno, New York Times bestselling author of Monkey Boyz, Horse Latitudes, the Prayer for the Assassin trilogy and other novels
Bryn Greenwood is so good it hurts. Her writing is lean, precise, elegant and dripping with the telling detail - the understated bit of dialogue that reveals everything.

Author Blurb Patry Francis, three time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and author of The Orphans of Race Point
Written in lyrical and searingly honest prose, Bryn Greenwood tells a powerful story of love and resilience against the bleakest of backdrops. Like the best fiction, this is a novel that means to disturb and challenge as it forces us to look with compassion on every last one of its flawed, memorable characters. I was captivated from the first page to the last.

Reader Reviews

Michelle

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
Alright, yes this was a tough read at times. Nothing about this book is black and white, there is just too much that matters and influence why things happen the way they do. I might have been on the fence about how I felt about this book if the ...   Read More

Rebecca

Couldn't Put It Down
I haven't stayed up late to finish a book in a long time, but that is exactly what I did for ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS. I had to know what the outcome would be for this novel's young female protagonist in a book which tells a story with ...   Read More

Cloggie Downunder

a brilliant debut
All The Ugly And Wonderful Things is the first novel by American author, Bryn Greenwood. Eight-year-old Wavonna Lee Quinn has seen more than her share of ugly things in her short life. Her father is a drug dealer with a meth lab just down the hill ...   Read More

Carol N. (San Jose, CA)

Roller Coaster Ride
May I start my saying. . . this was one hard read! Bryn Greenwood's new book has a very controversial nature to its storyline. The subject matter, difficult to comprehend, but one that I understand does exist in this muddied world we live in. ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Age of Consent

The age of consent, according to western law, is the age at which a person is capable of agreeing to engagement in sexual activity. Stephen Robertson, in his article "Age of Consent Laws", states: "Narrowly concerned with sexual violence, and with girls, originally, since the 19th century the age of consent has occupied a central place in debates over the nature of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and been drawn into campaigns against prostitution and child marriage, struggles to achieve gender and sexual equality, and the response to teenage pregnancy."

According to Robertson, the first age of consent statute appeared in 1275 in England, and was part of a rape law. Called Westminster 1, the statute declared "ravish[ing] a maiden ...

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