- A New York Times and USA Today bestseller
- Book of the Month Club 2016 Book of the Year
- Second Place Goodreads Best Fiction of 2016
A beautiful and provocative love story between two unlikely people and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the Midwestern meth lab backdrop of their lives.
As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It's safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.
By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy's family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world. A powerful novel you won’t soon forget, Bryn Greenwood's All the Ugly and Wonderful Things challenges all we know and believe about love.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
BRYN GREENWOOD is a fourth-generation Kansan, and the daughter of a mostly reformed drug dealer. She earned an MFA from Kansas State University and continues to work in academia as an administrator. Her short fiction has appeared in Chiron Review, Karamu, The Battered Suitcase, and Menda City Review. She is the author of the novels Last Will and Lie Lay Lain. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
Read an Excerpt
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
By Bryn Greenwood
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Bryn Greenwood
All rights reserved.
My mother always started the story by saying, "Well, she was born in the backseat of a stranger's car," as though that explained why Wavy wasn't normal. It seemed to me that could happen to anybody. Maybe on the way to the hospital, your parents' respectable, middle-class car broke down. That was not what happened to Wavy. She was born in the backseat of a stranger's car, because Uncle Liam and Aunt Val were homeless, driving through Texas when their old beat-up van broke down. Nine months pregnant, Aunt Val hitchhiked to the next town for help. If you ever consider playing Good Samaritan to a pregnant woman, think about cleaning that up.
I learned all this from eavesdropping on Mom's Tuesday night book club. Sometimes they talked about books, but mostly they gossiped. That was where Mom first started polishing The Tragic and Edifying Story of Wavonna Quinn.
After Wavy was born, Mom didn't hear from Aunt Val for almost five years. The first news she had was that Uncle Liam had been arrested for dealing drugs, and Aunt Val needed money. Then Aunt Val got arrested for something Mom wouldn't say, leaving no one to take care of Wavy.
The day after that second phone call, Grandma visited, and argued with Mom behind closed doors about "reaping what you sow," and "blood is thicker than water." Grandma, my soft-in-the-middle, cookie-baking grandma shouted, "She's family! If you won't take her, I will!"
We took her. Mom promised Leslie and me new toys, but we were so excited about meeting our cousin that we didn't care. Wavy was our only cousin, because according to Mom, Dad's brother was gay. Leslie and I, at nine and going on seven, made up stories about Wavy that were pure Grimm's Fairy Tales. Starved, kept in a cage, living in the wilderness with wolves.
The day Wavy arrived, the weather suited our gloomy theories: dark and rainy, with gusting wind. Of course, it would have been more fitting if Wavy had arrived in a black limo or a horse-drawn carriage instead of the social worker's beige sedan.
Sue Enaldo was a plump woman in a blue pantsuit, but for me she was Santa Claus, bringing me a marvelous present. Before Sue could get a rain bonnet over her elaborate Dolly Parton hair, Wavy hopped out of the backseat, dangling a plastic grocery bag in one hand. She was delicate, and soaked to the skin by the time she reached the front door.
Leslie's face fell when she saw our cousin, but I wasn't disappointed. As soon as my mother opened the door, Wavy stepped in and surveyed her new home with a bottomless look I would grow to love, but that would eventually drive my mother to despair. Her eyes were dark, but not brown. Grey? Green? Blue? You couldn't really tell. Just dark and full of a long view of the world. Her eyelashes and eyebrows were translucent, to match her hair. Silver-blond, it clung to her head and ran trails of water off her shoulders onto the entryway tile.
"Wavonna, sweetie, I'm your Aunt Brenda." It was a mother I didn't recognize, the way she pitched her voice high, falsely bright, and gave Sue an anxious look. "Is she — is she okay?" "As okay as she ever is. She didn't say a word to me on the drive over. The foster family she's been with this week, they said she was quiet as a mouse."
"Has she been to see a doctor?"
"She went, but she wouldn't let anyone touch her. She kicked two nurses and punched the doctor."
My mother's eyes went wide and Leslie took a step back.
"Okay, then," Mom cooed. "Do you have some clothes in your bag there, Wavonna? Let's get you into something dry, okay?"
She must have expected Wavy to fight her, but when she reached for the grocery bag, Wavy let it go. My mother opened it and frowned at the contents.
"Where are the rest of her clothes?"
"That's it," Sue said. "She came to us wearing a man's undershirt. Those are the clothes the foster family got together for her."
"I'm sure Amy has something she can wear for now."
Putting her hands on her knees to get to Wavy's height, Sue said, "Wavonna, I'm going to go now and you're going to stay here with your aunt. Do you understand?"
The grown-ups talked to Wavy like she was a little kid, but at five she made a very adult gesture: a curt nod to dismiss Sue.
After Sue was gone, the four of us stood in the entryway, staring. Mom, Leslie, and I at Wavy. Wavy seemed to have x-ray vision, staring through the living room wall at the Venus oil lamp that hung on the other side. How did she know it was there to stare at it?
"Well, why don't we go upstairs and get Wavonna into some dry clothes," Mom said.
In my room, Wavy stood between the two beds, dripping onto the rug. Mom looked anxious, but I was thrilled to have my real live cousin in my room.
"Here, Amy, why don't you help her unpack while I get a towel?" Mom retreated, leaving us alone.
I opened an empty drawer and "unpacked" Wavy's bag: another hand-me-down sundress as threadbare as the one she had on, two pairs of panties, an undershirt, a flannel nightgown, and a new baby doll, smelling of fresh plastic.
"This will be your dresser." I didn't want to sound like my mother, like an adult. I wanted Wavy to like me. After I put the clothes in the drawer, I held the doll out to her. "Is this your baby?"
She looked at me, really looked at me, and that's how I knew her eyes weren't brown. Her head moved left, right, back to center. No.
"Well, we can put it in here, to keep it safe," I said.
Mom returned with a towel, which she tried to put over Wavy's dripping hair. Before Mom could touch her, Wavy snatched the towel away and dried her own hair.
After a moment of stunned silence, Mom said, "Let's find something for you to wear."
She laid out panties and an undershirt on the bed. Without any embarrassment, Wavy peeled off the sundress and dropped it on the floor, before stepping out of her tennis shoes. She was almost as bony as the kids in the UNICEF ads, her ribs sticking out through the dry cotton undershirt she put on.
I offered her my favorite corduroy pants and plaid shirt, but she shook her head. With her thumb and first finger she plucked at an invisible skirt. Mom looked helpless.
"She wants her dress," I said.
"She needs something warmer."
So I went into my closet and found a Christmas party dress I hated the one time I wore it. Navy velvet with a lace collar, it was too big for Wavy, but it suited her. With her hair already drying to blond wisps, she looked like she had stepped out of an old photograph.
At lunch, Wavy sat at the table, but didn't eat anything. Same thing at dinner and breakfast the next morning.
"Please, sweetie, just try a bite." Mom looked exhausted and she'd only been a stay-at-home aunt one day.
I love my mother. She was a good mother. She did arts and crafts projects with us, baked with us, and took us to the park. Until we were practically teenagers, Mom tucked us into bed every night. Whatever Wavy needed, it wasn't that.
The first night, Mom tucked Wavy and me into bed, me with my Winnie the Pooh, and Wavy with the baby doll she said wasn't hers. As soon as Mom left the room, Wavy threw off her covers and I heard the thud of the doll hitting the floor. If something else had happened to make the room go dark — if Leslie had played a prank or the bulb had burned out — I would have screamed for Mom, but when Wavy turned off my nightlight, I shivered under my covers, afraid but excited. After she lay down again, she spoke. Her voice was small and quiet, just what you would expect from a tiny, blond elf-child.
"Cassiopeia. Cepheus. Ursa Minor. Cygnus. Perseus. Orion."
Since she had finally spoken, I grew brave enough to ask, "What does it mean?"
"Names of stars."
Until then I hadn't known the stars had names. Arm extended, finger pointing, Wavy traced out shapes above her head, as though she were guiding the movements of the stars. A conductor directing a symphony.
The next night, Wavy smiled at me as Mom crawled around looking for the unwanted doll. A minute after we were tucked in, the baby was again among the dust bunnies under the bed. Eventually that became the doll's name: Dust Bunny. If Mom failed to look for the doll at bedtime, I said, "Oh, no. I think Dust Bunny is missing again," to make Wavy smile.
While I had a growing friendship with Wavy, my mother had only anxiety.
In the first month, Mom took Wavy to the doctor three times, because she wasn't eating. The first time, a nurse tried to put a thermometer in Wavy's mouth. It didn't end well. The other two times, Wavy mounted the scale and the doctor pronounced, "She's underweight, but not dangerously so. She must be eating something."
Dad said the same thing and he had evidence to back it up. One night, he came home from work after we were all in bed, and woke us up shouting, "Oh, goddamnit! What are you doing? What are you doing?"
Wavy wasn't in her bed, so I ran downstairs alone. I found Dad in the kitchen with the trash can lid in one hand and his briefcase in the other. I'd never been in the kitchen that late. In the day it was a warm, sunny place, but behind Dad, the basement door stood open and dark, like the mouth of a monster.
"What's the matter, Daddy?"
"It's nothing. Go back to bed." He put the lid on the trash and laid his briefcase on the table.
"What's going on, Bill?" Mom came up behind me and put her hand on my shoulder.
"She was eating out of the trash."
"What? Amy, what are you —"
"Not Amy. Your niece."
Mom didn't take Wavy to the doctor again to complain about her not eating.
After failing to solve that crisis, Mom became obsessed with sewing for Wavy. The dresses you could buy hung on her like sacks and were too frilly, which Wavy hated. The first day she wore my Christmas party dress, she tore the lace collar off.
So Mom sewed dozens of dresses that Wavy unraveled, plucking at the seams until a thread came loose. From there she could unravel a dress in less than a week. Mom rehemmed her dresses each time they came through the wash. It slowed the unraveling down, which was a practical solution, but Mom didn't want a solution, she wanted a reason.
One of the book club ladies said, "Does she have toileting problems?"
Mom frowned, shook her head. "No, there's no trouble like that. She'll be six in July."
Wavy and I eavesdropped from the other side of the kitchen door. Her games all involved sneaking around and finding people's secrets, like the cigarettes my father hid in a coffee can in the garage.
"I wonder if she's acting out over some inappropriate contact," the book club lady said.
"You think she might have been molested?" another lady said, sounding shocked but excited.
That conversation led to Wavy's first visit to a therapist. She stopped unraveling her dresses and Mom went around looking triumphant. To Dad, she said: "I think we've had a breakthrough."
Then she discovered the curtains in the guest bedroom, which were what Wavy took to unraveling when she stopped doing it to her clothes.
Mom and Dad yelled at each other while Wavy stared through them.
"Why does there have to be something wrong with her?" Dad said. "Maybe she's just weird. God knows your sister's weird enough. I don't have time for you to get hysterical over everything she does. We have to wrap up the books on the fiscal year-end."
"I'm worried about her. Is that so horrible of me? She never talks. What's going to happen to her?" "She does too talk," Leslie said. "I hear her talking at night to Amy."
Mom slowly turned to all of us, narrowed in on me. "Is that true? Does she talk to you?"
She stared into my eyes, pleading with me. I nodded.
"Well, what does she talk about?"
"It's a secret."
"There can't be secrets, Amy. If she tells you something important, you have to tell me. You want to help Vonnie, don't you?" Mom got down on her knees in front of me and I saw how it was. She would make me tell my secret. I started to cry, knowing I would tell and it wouldn't help Mom or Wavy. It would just rob me of something precious.
Wavy saved me. With her hand over her mouth, she said, "I don't want to talk about it."
My mother's eyes bulged. "I — I — I." She couldn't get a word out and even Dad looked stunned. The silent ghost girl could speak in complete sentences.
"I want you to go back to the therapist," Mom said.
Things might have gotten better after that, if it hadn't been for the other secret between Wavy and me. She liked to sneak out of the house at night, and I went with her. Breezing down the stairs on bare feet, we eased open the kitchen door and walked around the neighborhood.
Sometimes we just looked. Other times, we took things. The night of Wavy's sixth birthday, when she had left her cake uneaten, she jimmied open Mrs. NiBlack's screen door. We crept across the kitchen to the refrigerator, where Wavy pressed her finger to the lever to keep the light inside off. On the bottom shelf sat a half-eaten lemon pie, which we carried away. Crouched under the weeping willow in the Goerings' backyard, Wavy tore out a chunk of pie with her bare hand and gave me the plate. She went around the corner of the garden shed and when she came back, her piece of lemon pie was gone. No, she wasn't starving.
Some nights we gathered things. A wine bottle scavenged from the gutter. A woman's high-heeled shoe from the median of the highway, where we weren't supposed to go. An old hand mixer abandoned outside the Methodist Church's back door. We collected our treasures into a metal box stolen from the neighbor's garage, and secreted it along our back fence, behind the lilac bushes.
When autumn came, the lilacs lost their leaves, and Dad found the box of treasure, including Mrs. NiBlack's heavy glass pie plate, her name written on the bottom of it on a square of masking tape. Mom returned it to Mrs. NiBlack, who must have told her how the pie plate went missing: stolen out of her fridge on a hot July night, a trail of small dirty footprints left on the linoleum.
Or maybe something else made Mom suspicious.
As the weather got colder, I wanted to stay at home in bed, but when Wavy got up and dressed, I did, too. If I didn't go, she would go alone. Half of my fear was that something would happen to her. The other half was a fear that she would have adventures without me.
So I went with her, shivering against the cold, while my heart pounded with excitement. At the library, Wavy went up on tiptoe to reach her spindly arm into the book return. In the day, my mother would have driven us to the library to check out books, but stealing books was sweeter.
Wavy smiled and withdrew her arm to reveal treasure. The book was thin enough to pass through the return the wrong way, but it wasn't a kiddy book. Salome, the spine said. We leaned our heads together to consider the strangeness of an adult book with pictures. Odd pictures. The cover was worn and layered with clear tape to protect it, and the pages were heavy. It felt special.
As I reached to turn the page, a pair of headlights fell on us where we crouched beside the book deposit. Wavy darted away, but I froze when my father yelled, "Amy!" Like in a fairy tale, where knowing someone's name gives you power, my father was able to capture me.
My mother got out of the car and ran across the library parking lot. She looked so ferocious, loping toward me in her nightgown and coat, that I expected a blow. Punishment. Instead, she jerked me into her arms and pressed me to her chest.
After that, I had to tell everything. About the late night wandering. Not the stars. That was still my secret. Mom screamed and Dad yelled.
"I know you mean well, Brenda. You want to help her. I get that. But when her behavior starts endangering our children, it's time to choose. We can't keep her. She's out of control."
The police came to make a report, to get a picture, to put out a bulletin. The neighbors turned out to look for Wavy, but at dawn she returned on her own.
I woke to more yelling and screaming. That afternoon, Grandma came to get Wavy.
"It's a horrible idea. A stupid idea," Mom said. I marveled that she could talk to Grandma like that. It didn't seem possible to get away with saying something like that to your mother. "You can't keep an eye on her all the time. You can't stay up all night."
"What would be the point? I suppose she will do a little wandering. From what I remember, you and Val did some wandering when you were kids."
"That was different. We were teenagers and it was a safer time."
"Pfft," Grandma said.
"Think of your health, Helen," Dad said.
"You haven't been as strong since the chemo, Mom."
Excerpted from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood. Copyright © 2016 Bryn Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a book well worth reading. Heartbreaking as well as hopeful, at times difficult to read but a story you must follow to the end.
I would recommened this book to everyone. It was dark and beautiful.
A truly ugly and wonderful book. I was drawn in from the very beginning. I loved Wavy and marveled at her survival in her dysfunctional life. The time spent with her grandmother was too short but saved her as she then believed in herself and others. Keelan was a sweetheart and the love of her life in the horrible life that was hers. Loved this book. Very different.
Uncomfortable to read about a child and a man's love story, but as you get to know the characters and hear their point of view you can't help but root for them.
Beautifully written. I couldn't put it down.
When starting the first part of the book I was hooked. I felt completely engolfed into this story especially with all the twist and turns. The relationship between Wavy and Kellen was absolutely beautiful to me.
Riveting, I could not put this book down!
This book is beautifully written, has intense & realistic characters, with a constant underlining of love, but at the same time, it is disturbing and twisted, which is why it is brilliant! It evokes every human emotion...
Could not put this book down. Loved the characters.
AMAZING. Controversial, provocative, daring, and so f’ing good. Trying to sort my feelings about this book and my brain is about to explode. Because I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to feel disturbed or offended or have some sort of righteous indignation. But I don’t. And I’d be happy to delve into the reasons why, but then I’d be writing an essay not a review. So, for now, the book. As childhoods go, Wavy’s is pretty messed up. A mentally ill mother who can’t stay on her meds, a father who runs a huge meth-lab, sleeps with a bunch of different women and lives separately in a trailer on the property, and basically no one is looking out for Wavy and her little brother Donal. Her mother’s sister steps in occasionally, but her husband doesn’t want the responsibility, or for the mess that is Wavy’s life to negatively impact their children. So Wavy is on her own to care for herself and her brother. Until Kellen. When Wavy is 8, Kellen – who works for her father – has a motorcycle accident, and she saves him. And from that point on, he makes sure she and Donal are taken care of. They become best friends, and as the years pass, they become more. Their relationship is complicated and leads to all sorts of tragedy for both of them. But they continue to save each other, despite all obstacles. The author does a beautiful job, genius really, of telling the story in a way that shows you, really shows you, all of the complexities of the situation. As a reader, your rational brain is screaming that this relationship feels creepy, that they are too close for people with such a wide age gap (I believe he is 21 and she is 8 when the accident occurs), that you can see where this is going and it doesn’t seem right. But I think one of the major points of this book is that things aren’t always black and white, and frankly, our view of the world is limited by our own experiences and the degree to which we subscribe to social rules. Look, it’s an uncomfortable and weird subject, and I get why some find it repugnant and disturbing. As someone who was once a 15 year old dating a 21 year old (we were together for 3 years, I might add), maybe my perspective is a little more open than the average person. And while I didn’t have Wavy’s brand of messed up childhood, I didn’t grow up in some middle class neighborhood with two happily married parents and money to spare either. Whether we like it or not, our life experience colors our perceptions of right and wrong. And as a society, we feel like we have to draw a line somewhere (we do). But that line has to be flexible. Intent matters. Circumstances matter. The individuals involved matter. People are complex so situations involving people are complex. 13 year olds are people. Very, very complex people. So, I get the controversy, and some people won’t be swayed, and that’s fine. But I loved Wavy and Kellen, and I was cheering for them. Sorry not sorry. For me, reading serves many purposes, two of which are a) finding some of myself inside the story (oh, I SO did!) and b) pushing me to think beyond my own perspective and experience (check!). This book was a slam dunk for me. Top 5 for the second half of the year, at least top 10 for 2016. An astonishing, heart-wrenching read. I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
This book will challege you in what you think is right and proper. I'm very happy I came across this book. The story is heartbreaking, and unfortunately not true in so many cases of child molestations in real life. However, in this fictional story, it did read as a love story. Reading this book made me recall my great-great aunt, who married at the age of 13, to a man who was in his 20s. He told me my aunt was playing hop scotch on their wedding day. They had seven children, and from my perspective as a child/teen appeared to be happy. They were married for 50 years. Her husband took care of her through out a lenghty illness, until she past away.
All The Ugly And Wonderful Things is the first novel by American author, Bryn Greenwood. Eight-year-old Wavonna Lee Quinn has seen more than her share of ugly things in her short life. Her father is a drug dealer with a meth lab just down the hill from the farmhouse where she lives with her mother. Valerie Quinn is drug-addled and self-absorbed, and Wavy spends her days trying to live something like a normal life while protecting her baby brother, Donal from Val’s psychotic fluctuations. In her life there are few wonderful things; one of those is lying in the nearby meadow looking up at the stars and naming the constellations. Which is what Wavy is doing when Jesse Joe Kellen, a mechanic on an errand for her father, comes riding along on his 1956 Panhead. Seeing ths blond angel at the side of the road causes Kellen to skid, wreck the bike and injure himself in the process. Wavy overcomes her usual reserve to help him. From this accidental meeting, an unlikely friendship develops between these two. With her family’s lifestyle, Wavy is exposed to violence, drugs and indiscriminate sex, so she has learned to keep a low profile, to eschew attachment to possessions, to trust no one. But Kellen, despite his appearance, despite his criminal history, despite his age (he’s thirteen years older than her), earns her trust. In fact, he’s the only person in her life who cares enough to see her nourished, schooled and protected from harm. But when Wavy reaches her teens, and the relationship changes tenor, it attracts unwelcome attention with tragic consequences. Greenwood uses multiple narrators to present her story, and these give many points of view, but from Kellen and Wavy’s perspectives, the relationship can be seen as genuine and pure. Greenwood portrays her characters skilfully, and she conveys the sense of time and place and the prevalent social attitudes with consummate ease. Her descriptive prose is often exquisite. This is a tale that is likely to polarise readers, emotional and thought-provoking. A brilliant debut.
I read this book in 3 days. Coming back for more and more until I reached the end. One of the best books I've read
I can't wait to read mire from this author!
Hard at times to read but it does happen this way. This is one of my new authors i will read Couldnt put it down read the wholee day of my day off!!!!!
Difficult to put down and it will be even more difficult to ever forget. Although it is fiction the likelyhood of a real life scenario that is the same is a very real possibility. A well written story that includes hard to imagine pain and an unbelievable love in it’s center .
I read the description of this book the day before yesterday, and went out to get it the next afternoon. This is a highly unusual thing for me to do. Anyway, I'm very glad I did, because - as someone else mentioned on here, I think - I stayed up all night reading the whole thing. All 406 pages. Just beautiful. Sure, it's taboo, but it is so real. We need more people to tell the stories others are too afraid to. Pieces of my heart relate to this connection, and to Wavy. As Holden Caulfield in "The Catcher In The Rye" said, some authors make you feel like a friend, like you finish a book wanting to sit down for a coffee and talk with them. Bryn Greenwood has just become one of those authors, for me.
A very interesting love story that is fitting for the times and yet you will find yourself on different sides of an aisle you weren't expecting to be on.
This is the most beautiful and honest book I've read about the life of growing up with a mental unstable drug addict or parent. Wavy's story tears your heart out and stomps on it and glues it all back together only to smash it a few more times. By the end it's all stapled, glued and tied back together much like wavy's life. I know many people aren't a fan of this book because of the relationship that develops but I believe the entire book is honest and beautiful with the ugly things in life not everyone experiences and thank the stars if you've never had too.
This book is so good. :)
I consumed this book in a day - I couldn't put it down. It is so disturbing & heart breaking - but also beautiful & hopeful!
This book should challenge you in many ways. I read many reviews before reading this and was kind of unsure what to expect after reading such negative reviews and positive reviews. I am very happy I read this. It is important to understand and grasp why people make the decisions they do and how much their backgrounds can affect their decisions. I hope when you read this book you come away with a different perspective of "real" people who are going through these types of things and can show empathy rather than judgment when assessing difficult circumstances around others lives. I loved the way Greenwood illustrated these characters and the characters and their circumstances have stuck with me since I read this back in March. If you are hesitant to read this book, just read it and make your own opinion based around the conflict within this book.