I’ve read a lot of books lately about eccentric children. I guess they could be labelled – falling somewhere on the autism disorder spectrum or similar. But I kinda like that they aren’t. And the one in a million boy is one such boy. Friendless, he collects facts. Mostly in sets of ten. And his go-to point of reference is the Guinness Book of Records.
The One-in-a-Million Boy
by Monica Wood
Published by Headline Review
on April 12th 2016
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Literary Fiction
Miss Ona Vitkus has - aside from three months in the summer of 1914 - lived unobtrusively, her secrets fiercely protected.
The boy, with his passion for world records, changes all that. He is eleven. She is one hundred and four years, one hundred and thirty three days old (they are counting). And he makes her feel like she might be really special after all. Better late than never...
Only it's been two weeks now since he last visited, and she's starting to think he's not so different from all the rest.
Then the boy's father comes, for some reason determined to finish his son's good deed. And Ona must show this new stranger that not only are there odd jobs to be done, but a life's ambition to complete . . .
The book unfolds through the eyes of Quinn, the boy’s father and Ona. And we soon learn why Quinn’s spending an hour each week at Ona’s – fulfilling his son’s scout troop obligations.
Quinn’s a musician and separated from his wife, Belle. Twice. He first left when his son was three, returning when he was eight. And it’s his cross to bear that they never connected. Quinn could never accept his son’s eccentricities and his son couldn’t make his father happy.
Belle’s a mess and we spend less time with her. She’s being wooed by her son’s Scoutmaster, Ted, who pops up a number of times. Quinn still loves his ex-wife and she seemingly loves him. But she’s happy with Ted. And Ted’s good for her.
Relationships feature as a key theme of this novel, but it offers so much more than that.
Quinn’s obsessed with a need to pay penance for failing his son. He’s at a loss at how to do that, but develops a connection with the one person who seemed to ‘get’ his son…. the somewhat prickly Ona.
He reminded her that she’d once found people fascinating. That she’d lived more than one life. p 26
And Ona was enchanted by the earnest young boy…
It had been a long time, if ever, since another human being betrayed so intense an interest in the ordinary facts of her life. p 31
Lithuanian-born Ona’s our other narrator; directly and through recorded interviews with the boy as part of a homework project. The interviews are intriguing. We’re not privy to the questions or the boy’s interjections, but they’re obvious from the prose. It’s very clever and keeps the fast-paced momentum in a story which could have otherwise been a little slow.
We learn about Ona’s life – her family’s migration and her own integration into American society and culture. Ona’s story is a sad one – underpinned by parental love and sacrifice but ultimately one of self-growth and awareness.
This novel is achingly poignant. We learn of the boy’s fate early in the novel, so have time to come to terms with it. But it feels frustratingly pointless nonetheless.
It’s heartening as well however… as the tale’s one of personal growth – for Quinn, Ona and Belle (to a lesser extent). It’s also a reminder that we can find salvation and meaning where we least expect it.
The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood was published on 12 April by Hachette Australia.
I received a copy of this book for review purposes.