Bryn Greenwood’s novel All the Ugly and Wonderful Things centers on the unconventional relationship between a young, mentally abused girl named Wavy and Kellen, one of her drug-dealing father’s thugs. The story follows Wavy throughout the years, and her tale is one of tragedy and strength.
I have to admit, I found Wavy kind of irritating at first. Yes, I was sympathetic towards her, but I also couldn’t help but scoff at her pitiful attempts to try to grow up too fast. However, I was happy to discover that she grows quite a bit as the story progresses and transforms more into a figure of respect. She has her own set of issues that never fully go away, but she tries her best to not let them define her. By the time I reached the end of the book, I found myself admiring her rather than condoning her.
Kellen is someone I have mixed feelings about. I wanted to see him as a kindly giant, a rough-around-the-edges type who is really a soft marshmallow on the inside. Honestly, he only fits that image to an extent. The way that he genuinely cares for Wavy is truly admirable, and I think he is a good guy for that. But I also think he could have tried a lot harder to prevent his relationship with Wavy (remember, she is a tween and he’s in his twenties when they first meet) from taking a turn towards the inappropriate. Also, after witnessing how Wavy turns out in the end, I think she should have seen that she deserves much better than him.
Everyone is going to have their own interpretation of Wavy and Kellen’s relationship when they read this book. I knew that instantly as I was reading because even I couldn’t put a finger on how I felt about it exactly. Some people are going to feel very uncomfortable about it, and others are going to try their best to be understanding. The only thing I will advise to future readers of this book is to go in with an open mind.
I honestly loved the constantly rotating POVs that make up this novel. I didn’t find it jarring at all and believe that the exposure of multiple perspectives is what made this novel so unique and fascinating. I appreciated how the author used the perspectives for characters that weren’t really important by themselves – such as Wavy’s teacher, or the woman at the jewelry store – but were meaningful in how their insight painted Wavy, as well as her relationship with Kellen.
My biggest complaint that I have regarding this book is that the ending felt very rushed. It was like the author was trying to haphazardly tie up all the loose ends under the watchful eye of the page count. I didn’t like the feeling that I was being pushed towards the conclusion. Also, the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped it would be, and I’m still unsure of whether that means this novel was expertly done or it fell flat.
I cannot deny that this novel was unique and compelling. When you think about a grown man having a relationship with an underage girl, you immediately feel repulsion, and this story challenges that initial, typical reaction. The characters were complex, and the plot went along at a decent pace for the majority of the book. I, personally, had a difficult time putting it down because I felt like I needed to know what happened to this odd couple and the hectic world that they had found themselves in.