Friday, 27 April 2018

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

The One-in-a-Million Boy is a story of friendship and redemption, and the way life can be utterly unpredictable in the most tragic but also wonderful ways.

The boy – do we ever learn his name? – is the eleven-year-old scout sent to help Ona Vitkus with chores around her property. In particular, she needs help filling up the many bird feeders she has in her garden. Ona is a hundred and four, a source of fascination for the boy, who has Guinness Book of Records plans for her, including being the oldest licenced driver.

The boy is supposed to visit ten times to earn a badge, but suddenly stops visiting after only a few. Imagine Ona’s surprise to find Quinn, the boy’s itinerant musician father, on her doorstep, determined to finish what his son began. Quinn is plagued by guilt at not being a better father, and he and Ona begin an unusual and gently bantering friendship.

The One-in-a-Million Boy is a beautiful novel, with quirky, oddball characters, a quietly meandering storyline, and a smattering of feel-good humour. There are insights from the music scene, its demands and promises of glory, from the Tin Pan Alley years of Oma’s song-writing husband to the jobbing guitarist life led by Quinn.

Meanwhile Ona’s story is revealed in short recordings made by the boy and we realize that her life’s course has been changed by several chance encounters. When Ona meets Quinn, both feel the need to put right things that happened in the past and the road trip they embark on is full of humorous and desperate moments.

Monica Wood’s novel had me hooked from page one and left me with characters that are hard to forget. You could describe this novel as heart-warming in the way it deals with grief and forgiveness, but that might make it sound saccharine and preachy. It is anything but. Ona’s sharp, no-nonsense observations are a breath of fresh air and all the characters seem to be sprung from real life. This is a charming and original novel you won’t want to miss.

Reviewed by JAM

Catalogue link: The One-in-a-Million Boy

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