Book Review: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

All the ugly

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.

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All the Ugly and Wonderful Things will be published on the 9th August 2016.

In the whole world, she was the only person who cared whether I lived or died.

 This will contain a few spoiler type comments.

An open mind is a pre-requisite for this book. Set over fifteen years this novel tells the story of Wavy and Kellen, who form a friendship when she is eight and he is twenty-one which gradually develops into a romantic relationship. The consequences of a girl who has had to grow up all to quickly, due to the abuse that she has suffered; a man that falls in love with a child, even though he knows that it isn’t right; and whether that type of love can endure, is explored in this outstanding novel.

This story deals with judgment, prejudice and perception, not just surrounding the relationship between Wavy and Kellen, but also with the characters as individuals. It highlights the fact that sometimes people either don’t want to understand, or have the capacity to understand, when someone is different to them. As well as this it shows that we often try to get people to conform without trying to promote individuality, we expect everyone to fall into our categories and find it difficult to accept those that don’t. Once a judgment is cast, we don’t often give the chance to improve upon the judgment, which is perfectly illustrated through the relationship between Wavy’s Aunt Brenda and Kellen. This eventually poisons the relationship between Wavy and her Aunt, I feel this was conveyed really well because her character made me so angry that I had to stop reading at one point before I could continue. It also offers a different perception than what I am used to reading, the way that Wavy; an innocent in a bad situation; describes scenes of the police coming for her mother, demonstrates how their image can go from the general impression of being protectors to being unsafe and evil.

Of course the main attraction is the relationship between Wavy and Kellen, the acceptance and support that they provide for each other makes you appreciate that love doesn’t sit within boundaries that are created for it. We realize people’s vulnerabilities and how far people will push themselves for the one that they love. I found it heartbreaking that Kellen was at war with himself trying to walk the line between what is right for society and what is right for Wavy, as he knows that their relationship isn’t really acceptable and that other people will definitely feel that way. Another poignant moment was the description of how Wavy doesn’t seem to have grown up, when she is nearing her twenties, as if she has trapped herself in time waiting for Kellen, waiting for them to fall back into their relationship where it picked off.

Feeling dead was better than when my heart hurt. Sometimes I thought it might burn through my ribs while I was asleep, and smolder in the sheets until the whole house caught fire.

The story is told through multiple points of view, not just from characters central to the story but from outlying characters as well. This works magnificently to give us the a wholly rounded sense of the protagonists, building up their characters in little pieces so that the insights we gain are relevant to what’s happening at that moment. It also makes the delivery come across in a more matter of fact way, and considering the subject matter it was a nice contrast to not have an overly dramatic delivery. On top of that, with this particular topic, it also doesn’t let you get too pulled into Wavy and Kellen’s way of thinking, it constantly offers you reminders of how society as a whole feels about the situation, which adds credence to the story. The multiple points of view, as well as adding these extra dimensions, also sets a really good pace in the novel, it reveals itself in fragments in such a natural way that it keeps you riveted.

There are only a few criticisms that I can make about this book. The last part of the book, for me, doesn’t have the same impact or depth as the rest of the story. I was worried that some loose ends wouldn’t be tied up, it turned out that they were but it felt a little rushed. Another issue for me was a relationship that Kellen develops later on in the story, it felt superfluous, it becomes a sexual relationship and I think that the same points could have been conveyed without the intimacy being involved.

This is an exquisite book and no matter what your feelings are towards it, this story will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished it.


Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for the review copy of this book.


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