Review: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood


“As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible “adult” around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.”

“I mostly liked high school. I liked learning things. How numbers worked together to explain the stars. How molecules made up the world. All the ugly and wonderful things people had done in the last two thousand years.” Page 250

I really enjoyed this book. Maybe enjoyed isn’t the right word exactly, but I was definitely invested in the story, even if some parts were ugly to read. Yes, this book is both ugly and wonderful. It made me uncomfortable at times to read because I didn’t quite know how I felt about it, but I was invested in the story and had to know what happened.

The story is about Wavy, a daughter of a drug dealer and a mentally unstable mother. Wavy’s mother told her from a young age that other people were dirty and to never let others touch her. As a result, Wavy hates being touched, doesn’t eat in front of everyone and is eerily silent most of the time. This alienates her from her cousins and aunt, who are probably her only stable family in her life. Then, when Wavy is eight, she meets Kellen. Kellen crashes on his motorcycle and Wavy runs to get help. Kellen is kind to her. He cleans her house, picks her up from school. He genuinely wants to be helpful, and they start to love and depend on each other, probably because this is the only love either of them have experienced for their entire lives. As Wavy’s home life worsens, she depends on Kellen’s support even more. What develops between them is not quite familial, but not really sexual either (at least not at first). The book follows their relationship and Wavy’s life over the next twelve years or so, and explores every ugly and wonderful thing that comes along with it.

I was reading through some other Goodreads reviews to see what other people thought of the book, because while it is a beautifully written coming of age story it clearly has some controversial topics that people will want to discuss. I remember one review I read that said something to the effect of “It made me think and feel a lot of things but I didn’t want to feel any of it” (this is not a direct quote from the review 🙂 ). Isn’t that the point of such a poignant, eloquent book? To make you feel things you weren’t expecting to? Whether that be happiness, anger, disgust. Good books are stories that you think about for days afterward, and sometimes not in an entirely positive light.

Kellen and Wavy’s relationship was..unconventional to say the least. To be fair, both characters were far from perfect and they each had plenty of issues. However, their relationship wasn’t creepy, at least not in the way I was expecting. Kellen loved Wavy because she saw him as a person, and she remembered him when nobody else did.

“Except for Wavy. She kept me there. More than that. She kept me tethered, not just to Powell, but to being alive. In the whole world, she was the only person who cared whether I lived or died. If there was anyone who remembered tonight, it was her” Page 102

Wavy loved Kellen because he cared for her, even if she didn’t talk or eat in front of anyone, even if she was kind of strange (okay, very strange). They were the only positive aspects of each of their sad, lonely lives and they grew to depend on each other. When I say love, I don’t mean in a sexual way. Sure, that developed when Wavy got older. But when Wavy was growing up, it wasn’t a sexual relationship. It wasn’t quite paternal or brotherly, but it certainly wasn’t sexual until she got a little older. Now, I’m not trying to justify anything in this book and certain parts were difficult to read but it really made me think about their relationship. I was both uncomfortable

Wavy and Kellen’s relationship is what made this book original for me. I unfortunately couldn’t really connect with Wavy as a character and often felt conflicted about her interactions with Kellen because while Wavy was acting of her own accord, she clearly has a narrow, twisted view of the world and only has her crazy mother and drug dealer father as adult examples in her life.

While I certainly enjoyed this book, it unfortunately didn’t live up to the 5 star rating I was expecting to give it. I still rated it 4 stars because it was very unique and enjoyable! There were still some questions I had about the characters’ actions throughout the story that are never really resolved. I also wasn’t too pleased with the ending, I just don’t know how realistic it was? I guess when I was reading reviews for this book, I was expecting to be a lot uglier. It was a good coming-of-age story, and Wavy’s relationship with Kellen was very thoughtfully developed. The writing was also very beautiful and fit with the mood of the story. Overall, definitely worth the read but didn’t quite live up to the hype for me.





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