Book Club: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

To begin, this was a highly anticipated book club discussion in which all of us were eager to hear what we thought of this brilliantly crafted yet strange ie. uncomfortable love story. The latter bit of that statement was the biggest source of pondering – is this a love story? Meaning, one we can get behind? I found that regardless of how uncomfortable most of us felt with the start of the relationship between 8 year-old Wavy and Kellen, 13 years her senior, the quote that stuck with me was this exchange:

“There’s nothing wrong with me buying her a ring. She’s my girl,” Kellen said.

“Yeah, except for the part where you’re a pedophile.”

“That’s not the only thing love means.” (Greenwood 175)

A parallel was made to that of Hillbilly Elegy, in terms of the culture of similar rural towns. Relationships may look a little different with families starting out very young. We see a distinction of maturity levels versus actual age in which Wavy was forced to grow up quickly as she cared for her baby brother (and sometimes her mom), whereas Kellen is the adult who’s mental state is more of an adolescent. Because of the sex scandals painted on every news media currently, the timing of this read was on point as we wrestled with the morality of the relationship. One of us even stated that the writing was captivating in that it challenged us to see the right and wrong and everything in between when it came to Wavy and Kellen. This was due to the changing narrator perspectives, as we could get look into the thought processes and actions of the two main characters but also the introspection from significant secondary characters. There was some sympathy for Wavy since she expresses several times that “Nothing belonged to me” as spoken by her hypocritical and jealous mother. So when Wavy comes across Kellen, he is the one thing (person) that could belong to her – and eventually would be.

In the end, I feel that when we first started with Wavy and Kellen it was a source of high discomfort. However, the progression we see of her into an adult, knowing what she wants, and being an incredibly strong and resilient woman encourages me to root for the continuation of their relationship. The protectiveness we found an appropriate way of showing love to Wavy when she was young and had little guardianship (or comfort with those that looked after her). However, that protective/older brother type of love was short-lived. The whole plot would’ve looked differently if Wavy’s Grandma Helen lived a bit longer – as she was the first person Wavy trusted to love her in an endearing and familial way that was foreign to her prior. The story comes full circle in a way as now her brother Donal is under her care, but he comes back into their family broken like Wavy was in the beginning, except now, they are more prepared and patient than Wavy’s Aunt Brenda and Uncle Bill were.

Some other quotes that stuck out to me:

(Wavy) “I mostly liked 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.” (Greenwood 250)

if you hear her get up in the middle of the night, don’t come checking on her. Wasn’t there a fairy tale with a warning like that? Beauty and the Beast?” (Greendwood 147)

Here’s to our next book club selection, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. Fingers crossed for Spring weather soon!

4 thoughts on “Book Club: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

  1. Wholeheartedly agree the author’s way of pointing out the rights and wrongs along the way. She actually had this kind of relationship, so she was writing from a place of personal knowledge. As an adult, she still argues passionately that it was consensual and in no way harmful to her, though they didn’t end up together in the long run. For a lot of people, there can be no gray area when it comes to this sort of thing, but I suspect that is a reflection on their particular experience of the world (an experience that maybe didn’t include Wavy’s kind of world). Such a great book club choice.

    Liked by 1 person

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