All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Brynn Greenwood

Cover of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn GreenwoodGreenwood’s tale is a unique and controversial love story about two damaged people.  When we first meet Wavonna Quinn, she is 5, come to stay with her mother’s sister, Aunt Brenda and cousins Amy and Leslie. Her mother is an addict and her father is a dealer. She moves from her Aunt’s home to her Grandma’s, after who’s death she returns to her parents and a new baby brother, Donal.

Kellan, a young man of Native American heritage raised by an alcoholic, abusive father, has already spent time in jail.  He’s one of Wavy’s father’s henchman.  Kellan wipes out on his motorcycle near Wavy’s house one night and the two form a bond.  Kellan makes sure Wavy gets to school, has shoes that fit and is generally taken care of.  As Wavy struggles to raise her little brother, surrounded by addicts and prostitutes, she finds solace in Kellan’s steady support, and as the years pass, her feelings begin to shift.  Aunt Brenda’s concerns about Wavy’s infatuation eventually culminate in a disastrous confrontation that derails the relationship, setting Wavy and Kellen on different paths. 

The story is told in several parts, primarily by Wavy and Kellen, though varying chapters provide insight from teachers, cousins and others that cross Wavy’s path over the course of 15 years.  Wavy and Kellen’s relationship crosses the line of what we would consider appropriate, one that is immoral by most standards, but not necessarily predatory.

There are some brief graphic passages and language but none of it gratuitous.  This would be an excellent book club selection as there is much to discuss: consensual relationships, addiction, dysfunctional families, religion and even regional norms among niche communities.  It’s not a scenario we would ever encourage, a girl in her early teens with a man in his twenties, but despite obstacles and good intentions, this story has a happily ever after.  “Sometimes you have to nod, even if you don’t agree.” This is Greenwood’s third novel.