Disclaimer: A free advanced digital copy of this book was received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I did NOT want to love this book.
I did NOT want to sympathize with the situation.
I did NOT want to give this such a good review.
But alas, what’s done is done and I have no urge to further overanalyze myself. This book was truly filled with everything “Ugly” and “Wonderful” about the exploration of a devloping romantic relationship between an underaged female, younger than the age of consent, and a fully adult male, over 10 years older than her. It isn’t the type of content that’s meant for the faint-hearted or for those individuals with rigid moralistic values. It paints broad strokes of grey in a situation that is conventionally viewed as strictly black and white, but (I have to admit) the sheer audacity of the theme is what drew me in the first place.
I was completely captivated from beginning to end. The author places the reader right in the thicket of a severely taboo subject – not frequently explored as a love story – while still maintaining the dignity of the main characters and the brutal honesty of the topic. No one was ideally perfect; no decision made completely right. What made the novel fall on the side of beautiful (instead of disgusting) was the raw portrayal of each and every character and the unbridled emotional output poured into the pages. Those glimpses into personal thoughts and unfiltered commentary given built this story just as much as the action and setting.
Pity is not the author’s purpose. Sympathy was not being funneled towards a singular character. What was slowly teased out of me was a kind of despaired understanding and reluctant approval that had me wanting to simultaneously stop and continue reading. Morals are a fluid thing, laws do not always mean justice; and though both systems serve their purpose, this book does a fantastic job of questioning moralistic and legal principles in a unique way that places this subject of love and rape through a lens I’ve never read before.
That being said, I know there will be a lot of comparisons between All the Ugly and Wonderful Things and Lolita because of the similarly disturbing premise, but I’d have to strongly disagree with anyone that makes that comparison. Nabokov wrote Lolita from the perspective of an unreliable narrator with various hints that begged the reader to be appalled by the hidden truth of rape. Greenwood, on the other hand, changes the POV of the story to avoid this. Both main characters play their respective parts in cultivating the relationship and, even though it is categorized as rape, there is much more involved in the romance than just the sexual features.
I originally knocked this title down from a 5-star to a 4-star rating. My reasoning was very much influenced by the amount of times I felt utterly uncomfortable with the content and how often I was forced to re-evaluate my opinion of the circumstances. Additionally, my desire for the novel to be a bit longer was also a factor in my decision. I would have liked to see more delicately detailed descriptions of the main characters towards the end; I felt like the later-portion of the book was lacking the fulfilling explanations presented in the earlier-portion and deserved more pages. However, I still do not feel like any of the negative aspects of my reading experience even compared to all of the positive ones. After writing all of this, I have to bump it back up to a 5-star rating because I realize how strongly I reacted and, consequently, how good of a think-piece it can be. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was a beautifully tragic romance that has the power to shock and awe the masses, if given the chance. Original. Vexing. Enthralling. I’d recommend this book to any daring reader who can handle the ethical crisis awaiting you upon completion. I cannot wait to see what this author does next.