The One-in-a-Million Boy, by Monica Wood
It’s always a joy to find an excellent book that is quirky and touching and deals with human experience. A Man Called Ove was like this. In a bookworld filled with thrillers and trilogies it’s a relief to find a book that just deals with some slightly off center characters trying to work out their lives the best they can.
The book begins with a man, Quinn, arriving at the house of 104-year-old Ona Vitkus. He’s filling in for his son, a scout who volunteered to help her on Saturdays. It’s no spoiler but it soon becomes clear that the boy has died and Quinn, a musician and generally absent father, has decided to fulfill his son’s commitment.
It’s odd that until looking for a name in this book that I didn’t really notice that his son is only referred to as the boy. The portrait of him is so alive. Through flashbacks we learn that the boy is slightly autistic and obsessed with numbers and Guiness Book of World Records. During his three visits to Ona he convinces her that he should coach her to achieve a world record, or maybe several, herself. She could become the world’s oldest person. Or, as a more achievable goal, she could become the world’s oldest holder of a valid driver’s license.
As the story progresses Quinn and Ona bond with each other. We learn about his career as a musician and his relationship with the boy’s mother. We learn of Ona’s early life in Latvia and some of the loves and struggles through her 104 years. We also learn more about the boy and the genetic issue that lead to his death. The characters, with all their flaws, are completely charming and are taken at an easy pace through some unusual quests. Even so the impact of the boy on the lives of the other characters continues to weave throughout the book.
At the end I mostly thought “Thank goodness there are people who still write like this.” I like books with adventure and giant themes but it is still wonderful to find a book that can bring us back to earth and the people around us.
Great for any reader. Also the kind of book for which book clubs were invented.