all-the-ugly-and-wonderful-things

5 stars

Wow. Just. Wow.

I don’t give many 5 star ratings, but this book deserves it. Before we get any further, however, let me start by saying that this book is not for everyone. There are some very uncomfortable, controversial and disturbing things in this book. Physical and mental abuse. Drug use. Parental neglect. A couple graphic sex scenes. And most importantly, the love that develops between a 13/14 year old girl (Wavy) and 24/25 year old man (Kellen).
So, if you are a bit squeamish and don’t think you can step out of reality and read this book for what it is – a book about abuse, loneliness, courage, hope, hurt, anguish, acceptance and love, then don’t read it because you won’t enjoy it. You won’t be able to get past the basic premise of the relationship between the main characters, Wavy and Kellen. Obviously I do not condone the relationship. I am, however, able to step away from it (it is fiction, after all) and just read the story.

I started reading this book and literally could not put it down. I read all through the night and into the morning. It is beautifully and effortlessly written. It is written in very short chapters. The narratives switch between several characters’ POV, as well as first person and third person voices. This technique is normally annoying and disruptive, but is wonderfully done in this book and adds depth to the story. The author has a unique ability to cut right to the heart of whatever she is writing, with very little narrative. It is the epitome of showing, not telling.

The book is the story of Wavonna (Wavy) Quinn and Jesse Joe Kellen. Wavy is a tiny, blond 6 year old when the story begins. Her father is a drug dealer and her mother is addicted to drugs. Both are in prison. Wavy goes to live with her well-meaning, but judgmental Aunt who promptly dumps her on her grandmother until her mother Val is released from prison into a drug treatment program. Val does well for awhile, until her husband Liam shows up and convinces her to get back together. They move into a farmhouse in the country, but soon Val is using drugs again and Liam is living with other women on the property and operating his meth business. In addition to drug addiction, Val has crazy notions about men and germs, and foists these ideas on Wavy, who is just trying to survive. Wavy is left to fend for herself and one year old brother, Donal. Wavy doesn’t like to be touched, barely speaks and is wise beyond her years. She won’t eat in front of anyone and sneaks out at night to scavenge for food.

Wavy takes comfort in looking at the stars and as she is walking home one night, Kellen roars up the road toward her house and crashes his motorcycle. Thus, Kellen enters her life and changes it forever. Kellen is a young man with a criminal past and a life full of loneliness. He is a Native American and is described throughout the book as huge. He is tall, muscular and a bit overweight. He is covered in tattoos. He is a mechanic and does work on the side being the “muscle” for Liam’s drug business. After Kellen recovers from his motorcycle accident, he discovers the condition that Wavy and her brother are living in and begins to help around the house. He cleans, buys groceries and takes Wavy to school. Slowly, Wavy begins to trust Kellen – the first time she’s been able to trust an adult in her life.

As the years go by, the relationship between Wavy and Kellen slowly begins to change from big brother/sister to man and woman. Circumstances slowly build to a climatic event that changes everyone’s lives. The aftermath is heart-breaking and poignant. Going into any more detail will spoil the book.

I mostly liked high school. I liked learning things.
How numbers worked together to explain the stars.
How molecules made the world.
All the ugly and wonderful things people had done
in the last two thousand years.

My past work brought me into contact with a lot of the less than savory character types in this book. While intellectually I had an idea of the conditions they lived in, their reasons for doing certain things and their reactions to events in their life, if I’m being honest, I didn’t really understand their life and choices. This book gave me a glimpse into what I could never really understand, because I don’t think anyone really can unless they live through it too. This book will stay with you. And that’s not a bad thing.

346 pages

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