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All booksContemporary fictionAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Contemporary fiction

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Book of the year
Each year thousands of members vote for our Book of the Year award—congrats to All the Ugly and Wonderful Things!

by Bryn Greenwood

Quick take

The ultimate noir fairy tale...if you fell for Beauty and the Beast (and who didn't?) you will fall for this very offbeat pair.

Why I love it

Nina Sankovitch
Bestselling Author

Prepare yourself for one of the strangest but also one of the most genuine, and unforgettable, love stories you'll ever read. Bryn Greenwood's pristine, evocative writing is perfect for creating this deeply hypnotic tale about love found in the most unlikely of places - a backwoods meth lab in the rural Midwest.

Wavy is the daughter of a man who runs the meth lab. Her circumscribed world is woefully bereft of anything wonderful; her short life has been a daisy chain of abuse, abandonment, and hopelessness. When we first meet her, she is just a child, already deeply scarred by mistreatment at the hands of her drug-addled mother and drug-producing father. An unlikely rescuer appears in the shape of Kellen, the hired muscle at the lab, an over-sized misfit just as damaged as Wavy - but more than twice her age. Wavy is so starved for love and affection that her heart opens to Kellen, and Kellen cannot help but enter into the relationship she offers him.

It is a strange sensation to be rooting for a little girl and the much older thug who goes beyond rescuer to become her lover. But amid all the very ugly things in the world these two inhabit (very, very ugly), their connection is the only wonderful thing they have. If you fell for the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast (and who didn't?) you will fall for this very offbeat pair. So I found myself wishing the couple happiness through their many trials. The course of true love never runs easy, not in fairy tales and certainly not in the very real, very grim world the two lovers inhabit.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is the ultimate noir fairy tale, with Wavy as the wounded beauty, small and blonde, abused in body and spirit, and Kellen as the beast, big and hulking but just as broken. The evil father, wasted mother, and other family members, all have their roles to play - and they all impart truths that move the book along at a fast and mesmerizing pace.

I read this stunning book in one go. It was well worth giving up a night of sleep to become part of this strange tale of love unfolding in an ugly world. Because in the end, no matter just how wrong Wavy and Kellen are for each other in so many ways, in the most important way, they are just so right.

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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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Member thoughts

All (15705)
All (15705)
Love (10250)
Like (4148)
Dislike (1307)
15872 ratings
  • 65% Love
  • 26% Like
  • 8% Dislike
  • Mount Vernon, WA

    Could not put this one down. At first I was scetched about the age difference in the characters. But once I got to the end, this book is amazing. I recommended it to a friend and he is reading it now.Greatbook

  • Columbia City, IN

    Love this! A new favorite!! This book really makes you question your beliefs and attitudes toward certain situations. The “villain” and “hero” seem to have switched places entirely. You need to read!!

  • Lexington, KY

    What in the child predation did I just read? I couldn’t put this down like you can’t look away from a car wreck. Not sure why but I loved this book…. can we stop calling it a “love story”, though?

  • Chicago, IL

    I got into a fight with my best friend about this book. This book redefined what love is. It is controversial—and poetic. It’s dangerous—and beautiful. It makes you face the real as well as the pain.

  • Martinsburg , WV

    This is such a good book, I can see how it won BOTY in 2016. I love that it is set in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Wavy is a remarkable character, but I also love that the story is told in other POVs, too.

  • Chula Vista, CA

    Pulls your feelings out, throws them on the ground, stomps on them & leaves you to pick them back up & try to figure out what the heck you're feeling now. A must read - unless you're easily offended ??????

  • Helena, MT

    “I’m real. I’m as real as you are.” An uncomfortable, controversial, painfully beautiful story that poses myriad challenging questions & demands a thorough reorientation of one’s moral compass.

  • Shady Side, MD

    Age difference was uncomfortable but this was a beautiful story about finding love in a time and place it didn’t exist. I was ready for a sad end so I’m happy it ended the way it did. Truly beautiful.

  • St Louis, MO

    Hands down best BOTM book I’ve read. Was just gonna read a little after work before making dinner, but I couldn’t. Put. It. Down. So real - it hit me right in the gut and I loved being understood

  • Astoria, NY

    Stayed up late reading this book. This book left me questioning many things about the rules of society. I asked myself — what’s more important morals or happiness? Enjoyed the writing & structure too!

  • Allentown , PA

    Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. The way the characters came to life was almost as if I was watching someone’s story unfold on a screen. Absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

  • Salado, TX

    What a difficult, wonderful, and lovely book. I know some had a problem with the relationship at the center of the book and I understand why. But sometimes love is messy. That doesn't change that it'slove

  • Auburndale , FL

    Wavy reminds me of a young Ruth (Ozark-Netflix) which made it even more interesting for me. Everyone should read this book, yes it may be “inapropriate” but its real-life. I loved this book so much.

  • Adelphi, MD

    Hands down one of my favorite books of all time!♥️ Such a beautiful story & I loved, loved, loved, loved, the love story, no matter how unconventional. I wish I could read it for the first time again!

  • Portsmouth, VA

    “If you only read books that make you feel safe and comfortable, what’s the point of reading?” - Greenwood & this book is the perfect example of reading something out of your comfort zone! Love Wavy

  • Sacramento, CA

    Beautiful, poetic, and uncomfortable love story I couldn’t put down. A reminder it’s difficult to judge love and family from the outside. Loved the different narrators and felt invested in characters.

  • Greenwood Village, CO

    An uncomfortable read at times, but the story-telling is so profoundly good that you can’t help but get sucked in. Complicated story about very complex humans - it’s beautiful and tragic all at once.

  • Indianapolis , IN

    I hadn’t heard about the controversy surrounding this book until I actually got into it and did some research. But regardless, I LOVED it, couldn’t put it down and it is a book that will stay with me.

  • Vermillion, SD

    This one will grip my heart for many years to come. Question what it means to be a “good guy.” Assumptions are often dead-wrong & destructive. You never know as much as you think you do. Love harder.

  • Goodyear , AZ

    I flew through this book. I loved the characters and the writing. Of course the subject matter makes it hard to love. I’m still on the fence about it but I guess that’s what books are supposed to do.

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