The Bookends

The-One-in-a-Million Boy

By Monica Wood

Every Saturday morning 104 year old Ona has a Boy Scout volunteer to help with light yard work around her home. She is usually unhappy with their “shortcutting” ways and refuses to let the volunteer return for the next Saturday. However, she likes the last boy that is sent to help. He was different than the others with his constant counting, list making and passion for world records. One Saturday the boy doesn’t come but his father, Quinn arrives the following week to finish the last seven Saturdays of his son’s commitment to Ona. What Quinn didn’t realize is the deep friendship that developed between this woman and his son, and their plan to make Ona the world record holder of the Oldest Licensed Driver.

BECKY This story has some interesting characters. I am not sure which one was my favorite. We have feisty Ona who has an interesting past, an eleven year old boy that is wise beyond his years, Quinn who hardly knows his unique young son and his twice-ex-wife Belle. Throughout the book we only know the child as the boy. Was that frustrating to you or did it fall into place naturally?

PAM You know what is crazy? I didn’t realize that until you asked the question! I would love to ask the author the purpose of omitting the name (even though I did not even notice…). I wonder what that says about me as a reader! I agree that it was hard to choose a favorite character. The author did an amazing job of allowing us to see different sides of each character, making it easy to feel the changing dynamics throughout the story. The boy is interviewing Ona for a school project and records answers to questions he poses. He refuses to talk on the tape, but the interviews come to life as we can infer his questions and comments based on her answers. This was my favorite part of the book, as it allowed me to feel their relationship and how they brought out the best in each other. Did you feel the same about their relationship and how the author shared it with readers?

BECKY I loved these two unlikely friends and their connection. The author did a great job slowly creating a cast of individuals that alone are good but together… make something special. There are multiple layers to the story and the boy’s recording of Ona’s life story felt realistic. As I read, I could hear the recorder click on and the boys muffled presence in the background. As wonderful as the writing was there, I didn’t feel a connection with the mother. Her story is smaller than the rest so maybe that was the reason. Did you feel like she had a large enough presence in the story?

PAM I also felt that this character was not as developed and did not feel connected to her. There were so many sides to the boy’s mother, but they didn’t add up to a character I could understand. She suffers a great loss and I felt very sad for her, but didn’t understand her abrupt switches between childlike and authoritarian behaviors. Perhaps, it was also because deep down I liked the boy’s father and wanted her to help him feel connected and them to come together in this time of sadness. Their relationship had been rocky from the beginning, although he always loved her. Did you also hope they could help each other?

BECKY I usually defend the mother in a story but in this book I too was a fan of the father. I imagined a different ending to the story in regard to their relationship but am completely satisfied with the path the author chose. I think that they did help each other in an unusual way. It may not have been presented in a pretty box with a bow but their journey did resolve some emotions that were in limbo. One of the reasons that I like this book so much is that the characters were broken and didn’t fit into a typical mold. If you liked the novel, A Man Called Ove then you would like this story as well. Both books touch on the loneliness of seniors citizens. A boy sharing a few hours, once a week brought great joy to Ona. After reading this book did you look at the seniors in your life differently?

PAM This story certainly shares a perspective that is often overlooked. Ona is very alone after her dear friend passes. She spends days by herself, except for some interaction with volunteers as she receives assistance from the community. We all get so busy with our daily lives, that it is easy to forget people in this situation. The boy filled this empty spot for Ona. As she answers the boy’s interview questions, Ona is given the opportunity to reflect on her past and people in her life. She struggles with seeing loved ones grow old and pass on. Do you feel that she struggled with this because she didn’t see herself in this light?

BECKY Absolutely, she was still active and as independent as she could be with her physical limits. It is clearly difficult when piers are passing away. It not only creates a loneliness but a realization that time is nearing its end. A dear lady that I know in her 90’s told me that an ‘old guy’ was moving into her senior living center. I believe that her and Ona share a similar opinion that others are getting weak and older but they are feeling young and capable. I would imagine that this positive attitude is a healthier choice but the realization that their circle of friends are diminishing is real. The author did a beautiful job creating this story and I think a book club would have some interesting topics to discuss. It’s time to say goodby to The-One-In-A-Million Boy and move to your book pick for September. Please tell us what we will discuss next month.

PAM Next month, we will discuss Lisa See’s novel, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. We will learn about the Akha, a Chinese ethnic minority, and the art of producing a special type of tea, while we follow the life of Li-yan.

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