The One In A Million Boy, by Monica Wood, tells the story of an eleven year old, his twice divorced parents, and his only friend, a one hundred and four year old sagacious and independent woman named Miss Ona Vitkus. The boy likes lists and order and Guinness World Records. Ona finds herself talking to him about her long life, offering up secrets she has held close alongside cookies and card tricks. They makes plans, start projects, and enhance each other’s lives.
Then, on the tenth Saturday, the boy does not turn up. Nor does he appear the following week. Just as Ona is concluding that this boy may not have been so different to the rest after all his father, Quinn, arrives determined to complete his son’s commitment. It is the only thing his ex-wife, Belle, has asked him to do and he needs to do something.
Quinn struggled to interact with his son. His peripatetic life as a musician mattered more to him than fatherhood. Now he must find a way to live with his regret.
Belle is falling apart. Her friends and family have rallied round but cannot understand how she feels. Ona understands having been there herself.
Alongside their grief each must find a way to move forward. Ona decides that the prospects opened up for her by the boy should be pursued. When Quinn and then Belle offer to assist she realises that she need not live as if she is soon to die. She has seen so many elderly place themselves in care facilities to await the inevitable. She decides that she still has life goals.
At the heart of this story is a boy who struggled to fit with what all around expected of him. Miss Ona Vitkas appreciated the qualities others thought should be fixed. She has spent a lifetime quietly working to be allowed to be herself. Quinn and Belle reach out to her as someone who enriched their son’s life and discover she can also enrich theirs.
The narrator’s voice is gentle but this story has depth and never descends into schmalz. There are lists and observations, insights into the human psyche and the impact of societal ideals. Alongside the poignancy is much humour. The randomness of death offers an incentive to appreciate life. Having lived for so long Ona understands that there is always more to experience and to learn.
A beautifully told, uplifting tale of the realities and loneliness of family, friendship and love. I recommend this to all.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.