Overview/ Review (with Spoilers)
I’ve been putting off the first overview/ review of this for 2 weeks now. Not because it is bad or challenging, but solely due to time. However, once I finally sat down with this book and got to know Wavy, it made me so happy this wasn’t another one of those books Goodreads or Amazon recommends which makes it seem their algorithms don’t understand you at all.
Chapter Summaries (with Commentary)
Chapter 1: Amy – March 1975
In the beginning, you think this book is about Amy. A 9-year-old girl, with a 7-year-old little sister Leslie, awaiting their less fortunate, heavily rumored in their household cousin, Wavonna. Someone who doesn’t like to be touched, comes to their home with hardly any possessions, and seems so downtrodden and destitute that you feel bad for her instantly. Even if she is a bit standoffish to Amy’s mom Brenda.
Yet, the same can’t be said when it comes to Amy. While there are many horror stories about her interactions with adults, when it comes to Amy it is like that is her first friend. Perhaps the first person she has really hung out with and shared her likes and revealed what she has gone through. Of which, so it seems, includes a normalization of scavenging for food out of trash cans and stealing when she needs to.
Yet Wavonna doesn’t stay with Amy’s family. With two girls already, both seemingly normal, trying to deal with Wavonna who seems like a special needs kid to them, since she won’t talk, won’t eat in front of them, and is aggressive if they try to touch her, is too much. So Brenda’s mother, Helen, who has had recent gone in remission, takes her off their hands.
As likely noted in the Everything, Everything review, and likely will be said again whenever I finish The Lonely City, I am the type who like books featuring young people going through screwed up situations. I don’t know why I like reading about that particular kind of drama, but I do. Though when I first read chapter 1 I was very worried we’d end up stuck with Amy and her pondering what happened to her dear cousin. Luckily, we learn this book isn’t about her and as of Chapter 10, we haven’t even had Amy’s name mentioned once.
Chapter 2: Grandma – October 1975
From what it seems, the character focus may jump from chapter to chapter and this one is about Grandma Helen and her kids. The one she most talks about is Val, Brenda’s sister who is Wavonna’s mother, who is talked about like she is a piece of work. She got pregnant in high school, has been in prison, and has been trying on this old woman’s heart. Yet, she hopes to make things different for Wavonna. For while the child has that type of stare in which it seems she has checked out of life, she isn’t as stupid as many thinks she is.
In fact, they put her in a special needs class at school. The type you would fear being in, or having your child in, since they were truly more so babysitting than teaching there. Luckily, when her grandma sticks up for her to get her out of there, she exhibits she knows her ABCs, her numbers, and even some astrology. It’s just, unlike many kids her age, she doesn’t want someone touching her. She just wants an advocate, like her grandma, who understands her, or tries to, and seemingly to be left alone. Something which worked out fine for 2 years but with her cancer back and Val getting out of prison, she has done her matriarch duties of keeping the family together. So now she is ready to head off to the next life to see her husband Irv.
While I’m very used to death and hard subject matters in the books I read, outside of Push by Sapphire, abuse isn’t a topic I frequent. For after reading A Child Called It, which made me cry and nauseous, I avoided reading books like that. For it is one thing to watch a violent or sexually abusive thing on TV or in a movie because you can tell your mind it isn’t real, it’s just actors. However, when you read your own imagination is in play. You have to make these people and figure out how they look, how they act, and while a lot of that is based on how the author describes things, they often leave you to piece together things as well. Making it so these images you made up haunt you, they attach to memories and help fill in the blanks about the lives of people you know. People you heard of going through something like this, but you don’t know the full details.
Though when it comes to Wavonna, we aren’t made 100% sure yet why she is like this. The digging in the trash thing you can understand since you assume her mother rarely had food on the table. The lack of talking could be because she was surrounded by strangers and maybe got knocked around for not staying in a child’s place, but the desire not to be touched? You can only assume the worse and it makes you wonder what are the thoughts which go through this girl’s head? For we know whatever trauma hasn’t stunted her ability to learn, but it does seem to have her chained to some memory which refuses to let go.
Chapter 3: Wavy – June 1977
Though the title of the chapter is Wavy, Wavonna’s nickname, it more so is about Val. From what it seems, Val isn’t a drug addict but more so is a manic depressive with some issues. The type of issues which has made it seem Wavy is dirty so she shouldn’t touch anyone but her mother and little brother Donal. Also, she shouldn’t let people touch her, especially her father Liam. On top of that, food was also a dirty thing. Something that “Good Momma” would throw out to protect her and “Bad Momma” would throw out of spite. Thus creating fear of eating and being seen in Wavy and explaining that her eating from the trash wasn’t because there wasn’t food in the house but more so because her mother may get mad and do something to her if caught.
Though the chapter doesn’t let Liv seem like some simple villain. As noted, she has mental health issues and, on top of that, she is helplessly in love with Liam who is not only abusive, to the point Wavy is told not to trust him, but also controlling. You see, after jail, Liv is on the path to get her life back together. She has a medication routine, is getting a secretary certificate, but just an inkling of kindness from Liam messes that all up. Leading to her following him to some farm, with kids in tow, and being forced to rely on his generosity and his other girlfriend Dee who Val has a love/hate relationship with.
With grandma dead, as of this chapter, it leads you to wonder if we may have to depend on Brenda to fill in the blanks when it comes to Val. For there is so much more to her story that seems to be missing. After all, this chapter is from Wavy’s point of view so it isn’t going to come with the full details and writer Bryn Greenwood does a good job at trying to balance between being the author who knows everything and more about these characters and the character themselves only having the point of view of a daughter, mother, or sister. Which is kind of frustrating, in a small way, yet it helps you understand that we often only see a person through our relationship with them. So us getting to know Val through her mother’s eyes, then her daughter’s, it helps you not see her as simply a wicked mother but a person struggling. Thus building the anticipation for when Val gets her own chapter.
Things To Note | Question(s) Left Unanswered
- I can picture if this ever becomes a movie or TV series, Oona Laurence playing Wavy.