Book Review | All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Published by Thomas Dunne Books

Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Format: eARC

Pages: 352

Source: NetGalley

Goodreads: ★ 1/2

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible “adult” around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.


I wanted to pick up All the Ugly and Wonderful Things as soon as the book began getting buzz. I was instantly intrigued with the story. This book follows a young girl named Wavy. She is the daughter of a drug dealer and a mentally ill mother, and spends her childhood trying to care for her younger brother Donal. One day, Wavy meets a man in his twenties when he crashes his motorcycle near the farmhouse in which she lives. His name is Jesse Joe Kellen, and the two begin a friendship. Kellen buys Wavy groceries, registers her for school, and helps care for her when no one else will. Their relationship is at first innocent, but as time goes on the two fall in love despite their age gap. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things chronicles their story.

I want to first mention that although this book deals with a controversial topic, I do not think that should preclude you from reading it. Some scenes are are quite difficult to read, but the story as a whole is worth stomaching a few uncomfortable moments. In fact, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is extremely captivating, and I was pleasantly surprised with how easily the story flows. I was turning pages quickly to see what would happen next in Wavy’s life. I even had to force myself to put the book down at one point to get some sleep!

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is written in a multiple perspective format, so we get to hear from a variety of characters in the novel, including Wavy and Kellen. The majority of chapters are written in the first-person, with just a few being written in the third-person. I wish that the entirety of the book was in the first-person to provide uniformity in the narrative. I definitely see why having multiple perspectives is very important in telling the story, as we get to see Wavy’s life and her relationship with Kellen from the outside. However, it felt like the chapters in the third-person were random and I couldn’t see any meaning in the change of voice.

In the same way, I am really impressed with the author’s decision on whose voices we get to hear in the novel. For example, we never get to read from either of Wavy’s parents, and I think their absence in the narrative mirrors their absence from Wavy’s life. One of my favorite characters is Renee, who we meet later in the book. I really love how she grows and changes because of her relationship with Wavy. They are a unique pairing, and I am being purposefully vague so as to not spoil anything. However, I did want to mention how Renee really made an impact on me, and her character development is so substantial in just a short amount of time.

Moreover, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is so emotional, and one of the most heart-wrenching books I’ve read in a long time. It makes me so sad to think that there are real children, like Wavy and Donal, who have to grow up in such horrid environments such as a meth ring. This book brings up so many important topics, and asks you as a reader to think about things that you might have considered universal truths. I appreciate that there are no conclusions on whether Wavy’s relationship with Kellen is right or wrong. It is up to the reader to grapple with that choice, and it is a very difficult one.

I absolutely loved the reading experience of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, and highly recommend it. This is a great pick for your book club, as there are many interesting topics to discuss. I know this book will stick with me for a long time, and I hope to read it again in the future.


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