Review: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

WARNING: Here there be spoilers

It didn’t take me getting far into the book for me to know that this story was going to stay with me for a while. I got a lot out of this book, but to say I enjoyed it would be inaccurate.

I never really sympathized with Kellen. Maybe I’m too much like Brenda, but I would absolutely call what he did grooming and rape. Even if they didn’t actually “do it,” he crossed a million lines you should never cross, and that includes performing sex acts on children and relying on them for emotional support.

Kellen never seemed to be the good guy to me. His marriage to Wavy at the end of the book made me cringe.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the book is about fixation, about what it means to make something or someone the thing for which you live and breathe, and how utterly destructive that can be. How lines really do blur. How there really is no true black and white, only shades of gray. How love is a gateway to dependence, dependence itself a gateway to ruin.

Wavy let her relationship with Kellen define her, adopting even the name he gave her as her own identity. Kellen’s love (or obsession, or dependence, or attention) for a girl of eight was a marked sign of his insecurity and immaturity.

I didn’t see this book as romantic. It was a good, engaging, and thought-provoking read, but I saw romance nowhere in it. It’s a thorny and tragic tale of domestic violence, neglect, and predation. I only recommend reading it if you’re aware of the content ahead of time. If you want a romantic story of touching but taboo love, look elsewhere (preferably for some content about adults). But if you want to take a cold hard look at the edges of the world, give All the Ugly and Wonderful Things a read.

Dates read: December 14-15, 2021

I’m thinking back on this book about a month after reading it. I’ve since sold my copy and shipped it off to its new owner. It didn’t quite make my list of favorites or earn a place on my permanent shelves, but it has left an impression on me. I think perhaps if Wavy and Kellen hadn’t gotten a HEA, I would’ve thought better of the book. But, once again, I guess that’s the point. I suppose, like Brenda, I’m supposed to figure out how to accept it because in some cases that’s just how things are. And really and truly, you can’t save people from themselves and their choices. It’s tempting, powerfully tempting, but you can’t.

What did you think about this book? I feel like maybe I should put content warnings up on these types of book reviews. Thoughts?

Til next time,

-Emjay

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