Sunday, December 13, 2020

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


As I reviewed favorite books I've read this year, I was surprised to realize that I hadn't shared one of my favorites, The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. I can't remember who had recommended the book to me, but I had filed it away in the back of my mind until it popped back up on my radar--and I'm so glad it did.

One of my favorite assignments with my college freshmen is three interviews, ideally with their oldest living relative or someone of that generation. I am always so gratified when I find how much the assignment meant to many of my students. Some who didn't know their grandparents well ("I just thought of him as that grumpy old man at our house during holidays.") who discovered someone with common interests and experiences, with special stories worth preserving.

The book opens with an 11-year-old boy who has been assigned as part of the troop activity to do chores for Ona Vitkus, a 104-year-old Lithuanian immigrant. The boy has his tape recorder with him for these Saturday visits as he interviews her for a fifth-grade project. She has much to tell from a rich, full life.

The boy is unusual in some ways, but particularly in his fascination with the Guinness Book of Records. Once he realizes Ona's age, he becomes obsessed with helping her to break a world's record.

Spoiler alert: The reader learns early in the story that something has happened and the boy is no longer living. His father Quinn reports to finish his son's responsibilities. He has been an absentee father since he and the boy's mother Belle divorced, so he carried a load of guilt. 

Moving back and forth between the Saturdays with the boy interviewing Ona Vitkus and the days his father begins showing up, Wood brings all of the characters to three-dimensional life, flaws and virtues, in this painfully beautiful, haunting story.


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