Monday, April 18, 2016

Book Review: "The One-in-a-Million Boy" by Monica Wood

Well, I know I'm a sap, but this one had me in pieces. Or maybe there was just something in my eyes...

Ona Vitkus is 104 years old, a Lithuanian immigrant whose prickly exterior belies a warm heart, a mischievous spirit, and a lifetime of regrets. When the local Boy Scout troop assigns an awkward yet earnest scout to help her with household tasks to earn a merit badge, she's ready to scare him away as she has the others, if he doesn't disappoint her first.

Yet there's something about this boy that makes Ona let down her guard. Perhaps it's his lack of self-confidence, or his incessant curiosity about her life. Perhaps it's his emotional openness and his desire to be won over by everything she does. Or perhaps it's his obsession with the Guinness Book of World Records, which even fuels in Ona a desire to find a record she can achieve, even at her age.

The two form a close bond, made more so as he chooses her as an interview subject for a school assignment. But when one weekend when the boy doesn't show up, and his father Quinn, an erstwhile musician who had trouble connecting with his son, appears in his place, Ona feels hurt and disappointed that he abandoned their relationship and their quest. It isn't long, however, before she realizes the boy died suddenly and inexplicably, and Quinn decides to pick up his son's tasks in an effort to better understand the boy who bewildered him, who never seemed to get what Quinn wanted to give him.

Quinn is adrift, wanting to land on his feet professionally yet feeling utterly lost psychologically. Belle, his ex-wife (twice) and the boy's mother, won't let him share in her anger or her guilt, and all she wants to do is make Quinn pay for not giving their son the love and security he needed and deserved. But while she wants both to mourn her son and get on with her life, she starts to realize that Quinn might have the right idea in forging a relationship with Ona in an effort to keep the boy alive.

The One-in-a-Million Boy is moving, beautiful, and even a little whimsical. Ona and Quinn are particularly fascinating characters, and I love the way Monica Wood gave Ona so much more depth than I first expected. Amazingly, however, it is the boy who is the most memorable character, despite the fact that we never learn his name, and you mostly see him through the eyes of Ona and his parents, as well as his myriad lists of Guinness recordholders.

This is a special book, one which dwells not on surprising plot twists but rather on pure emotion. You may know where Wood will take her characters, but you savor the journey anyway, and if you're like me, you may tear up (at the very least) a time or two.

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