All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (2016)

L: 4.5/10

M: 6/10

Analysis from someone who ate lunch in the bathroom all throughout high school:

I wanted this book to change. It throws a lot at you in the opening scenes, and I wasn’t quite sure which story it was going to focus on. Two sisters, who couldn’t be more different, and their collective children are all introduced early on, and the cast of characters and the perspectives in which the story is told are extensive. I knew it had something to do with drugs, and it most likely was going to focus on the children, being a story beginning in 1975 and working it’s way to the present. Where the focus landed was someplace I never would have expected, and the things that would unfold from its unfortunate events were really something else.

I have a hard time knowing how to feel about All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. I’m not entirely sure you can come out from this book and liked it, and remain a decent human being. To summarize this book, it revolves around an older man, whose age he meets the eight-year-old Wavy, is somewhere in his late 20’s? It’s unclear on his age throughout the story, but he is always described as a colossal guy whose size even prolongs the disturbing fact that the young Wavy never really looks her age. Even in the book’s closing pages, at twenty-one, she is still said to be passable for a teenager. The gross old man in question, Kellen, is the sole person in this book who gives a damn and lends support to Wavy and her young brother Donal, who have zero parental existence and live in a meth den. A love story evolves, and the graphic nature in which Bryn Greenwood goes is upsetting, and not anything someone should want to read. Ever. It should come with an NSFW tag, blurred out, and only viewable when you decide you want to look at something fucked up.

There are so many people in this book that turn a blind eye to this growing relationship, and you hate them all for their lack of care. Something clearly is not right. The fact they are soul mates or whatever is inexcusable, and them ending up as a family, in the end, doesn’t just erase pages and pages of things that shouldn’t have existed. I honestly wouldn’t even put this book in one of those little neighborhood libraries around my block, afraid a child might get this book in his hands and do a book report about it.

This is where the real clash of my morals come into the light. I kind of still liked a lot about the book. While I feel like I should bury it in my backyard, Bryn Greenwood still shows that she is a very gifted writer. The mere fact that such a taboo story can arch over the length of an entire book, with all its characters who fail the children even somewhat excusable by the closing moments, its a real feat to have such disaster and darkness bloom into a place acceptable of leaving the characters behind in. Does this make me a bad person? I definitely felt dirty reading the thing, and not in an American Pyscho, nailing your ex-girlfriend to the floor and pouring acid on her face type of way. More in a really disturbing episode of Law and Order: SVU turned into a book, but from the perspective of the defendants, kind of way. There is nastiness and darkness in the world. No matter how far we distance ourselves from it and pretend it doens’t exist all around us, these stories are very real and deserve to be told. All in all, I’m glad this ordeal is over, and I don’t think I’ll be recommending this book to my mother-in-law any time soon.

Analysis from the only one to ever leave the Hotel California:

You know what upsets me? This effin’ book. The reviews promised a really dramatic and troubling book that would cause you to really search yourself and your ethics, and on that, I suppose, it delivered. However, I was not expecting it to feel as if I was participating in pedophilia as entertainment. Not a fan.

What you have here is the story of a girl growing up in a very abusive environment who found love in the one person she felt truly safe with. The problem is that she was like 10 when it started, 13 when it peaked sexually, and her “love” was a man in his twenties. I have a twelve-year-old daughter, and this book reached me a little deeper. I’m sure because of that, so I have to understand that my parental lens may factor into my prudeness in regards to this novel.

When it comes to the writing, I truly am a fan. I love the chapter style, where the book is being told from different points of view. We have read a few books with that pattern in them, and I always find it refreshing to switch up the narrative. I also think the book flows at a great rhythm. I never felt too much of a lag or that the ending was crammed and rushed. I will definitely be looking for other books by the author though I will pay a little more attention to the subject matter.

I feel I understood the author better when reading some of the QandA at the end of the book. She said herself that she had a relationship with a much older man when she was very young and that to date, it has been one of the more healthy relationships she has had. To her, the subject really wasn’t taboo. I admit that eased my mind a bit though I’m not sure that is a good thing. Also, by the end of the book, I indeed found myself rooting for Wavy and Kellen. I have found my safest place in the world with my husband, and after having lived a life that felt I would never have that, I can understand the peace and the healing that comes from having your safety net be the love of your life. I want them to be happy and peaceful. I think my whole take would have been a lot better if they had just avoided physical intimacy, but that’s not how the world works, I guess. Oh well, a decent score for a decent book that creeped me out a lot.

I am looking forward to giving one of her other pieces a try.

Bryn Greenwood

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