All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Bryn Greenwood’s novel All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was my favorite book of 2016.  Thought provoking and original, it left me recommending it to nearly everyone.  It does have some themes of neglect and abuse, so it’s not for people who don’t enjoy books that have darker themes.

This novel starts in 1975 from Amy’s perspective. Her weird, mute cousin Wavy is visiting with her baby brother Donal. Wavy won’t talk, won’t eat and doesn’t play normally. Amy finds her fascinating – and Wavy is.

The story spans 15 years, from 1975 – 1990, while we get the story from virtually all perspectives – Wavy, Donal, Kellan, Amy, Val, Brenda, Renee…and more. The reader sees an incredibly complex story of chronic abuse, drugs, friends, family, sex, love and hate. Told by a less skilled writer, this could have been an incredibly ugly novel, but instead, the love and beauty are allowed to shine through the ugliness, and we can see that broken, illegal, legal, and love are all different based on perspective and that the best intentions can lead to both hell and to redemption.

I couldn’t put this book down – the plot is fantastic, moving along quickly, giving the reader multiple points of view on a scene when needed, or only one. It allows the most jaded reader to believe in looking beyond the surface appearance, or the words on the jacket, because the story comes from knowing both the ugly parts and the beautiful ones, and some of the mundane between.

Families have always been different from one another, but the family that is different from the heterogeneous norm has historically been so hard to justify – this novel examines the most imperfect group of people and sorts through the beautiful and ugly parts to show the reader that good can win, that families are difficult and hard to categorize but still love.

Bryn Greenwood has a fantastic, utterly readable narrative that is nearly impossible to put down. I woke at 3 am and was too tempted by her words to roll over and try and sleep, so instead I picked up my Kindle again. She is clearly and amazing talent and I look forward to more books by this author.

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