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

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This novel traces the posthumous influence of an 11 year-old boy on a sympathetic set of adults, and traces the effects of his life and death to self-discovery, love, responsibility, and record-setting longevity. It’s a unique, gratifying read, written with intelligence, wisdom, and most of all, charity. The author’s kindness extends to her characters as well as her readers: the love the characters feel for each other reaches the surface in unusual ways. And Monica Wood’s readers feel her kindness through the realistic strivings and the partial and sometimes surprising success they meet with. This is superb.

A shy, unaccomplished 11 year-old Boy Scout visits 104 year-old Ona to assist with chores and record her history, as part of an exercise to earn a merit badge. Ona is Lithuanian and sharp as a tack. She’s lived in the U.S. since 1913, was married to a dull, unloving man for nearly three decades, but has nevertheless lived an interesting life. After the boy’s passing, his father Quinn takes over. First he takes on the chores, and eventually he fills a void which the youngster’s passing has created. 

Quinn is in many ways the focus of the story. He performs chores around the house for Ona scrupulously at first, before their relationship gels into a friendship. Quinn’s marriage has fractured - twice - but Ona observes Quinn’s continuing devotion to his ex-wife Belle. She finds she admires Quinn’s perseverance and kindness, and allows him to help her pursue her plan to re-qualify for her driver’s license. This license is a wonderful trope by Wood, a hard encapsulation of Ona’s determined will to continue to function in the world despite her age.

“The One-in-a-Million Boy” has such a big heart: it has space for everyone’s ambitions, everyone’s failings, everyone’s redemption, everyone’s love. I recommend this book as heartily as I have before for Wood, one of my favorites. “My Only Story” is superb, “Any Bitter Thing” gratifying and balanced, but “The One-in-a-Million Boy” takes the cake. A multiple award winner, and my new favorite among Wood’s oeuvre, be sure to take this one up! 


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