At the beginning of February, I was lucky enough to be at a Rooftop Book Club event run by Headline Publishing where Monica Wood read us a couple of extracts from The One-in-a-Million Boy*, and also answered questions about how she came to write it. I knew then that I’d enjoy the book; what I didn’t realise at the time was how much the story would affect me.
The One-in-a-Million Boy starts off as a gentle enough read: a father turns up at the house of 104 year old Ona Vitkus to complete the good deed his scouting son had started. Quinn, the father, doesn’t tell her why he’s come in the boy’s place. He just goes about the task of filling the bird feeders and doing the chores in Ona’s yard. Ona is spiky and not happy about the substitution. She’s become accustomed to the boy and they’d established a friendship of sorts over the past few weeks. Or so she’d thought. She doesn’t understand why he missed a week without sending word and why his father has turned up in his place and is covering for him.
The reader knows before Ona does why the boy isn’t there himself, and it’s fascinating to build up a picture of this nameless, and often silent, boy over the course of the novel, and come to realise just how remarkable he is. Monica Wood does it so deftly that I was still trying to work out how she managed to make me care so much about him, and what he was doing for others, when the final chapter hit me with its full force. Tears were coursing down my face and there was not a thing I could do to stop them.
The One-in-a-Million Boy shines a beautiful light on ordinary lives and the stories behind them. It’s a wonderful novel about cross-generational friendships, how rewarding they can be if we just get past society’s and our own stereotyping and prejudices. They can help us, even heal us, in a way friendships with our peer group might not. And it shows what real friendship and kindness is. It’s not doing something out of a sense of duty or obligation: a good deed. It’s doing something that might make you feel good but more importantly makes the other person feel better/seen/noticed/valued/loved because you want to do it for them. To make them feel like they’re One in a Million.
‘Your boy gave me a present,’ Ona said.
Belle leaned in. ‘What?’
‘My mother tongue,’ Ona said. ‘From the moment I laid eyes on him, it’s been coming back. Dribs and drabs. I can’t explain it, unless he had magic up his sleeve.’
‘He was made of magic,’ Belle gave Ona’s hand a squeeze.
I think Monica Wood might also be made of magic. I was completely disarmed by her book’s humour and its gentle storytelling. I wished her characters could move into my neighbourhood because they felt like friends. And I forgive her for making me cry. If you read and loved Elizabeth is Missing, The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Year of Marvellous Ways, then I think you’ll fall for The One-in-a-Million Boy. I know I did.
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood is published by Headline Review and is out today in hardback and as an ebook. She’s also written a short story about Ona Vitkus which is available here: A Woman in a Million. To find out more about Monica and her books, including The One-in-a-Million Boy, you can visit her Author Website
* Thanks to the publisher for giving me a signed copy of The One-in-a-Million-Boy on the evening of the Rooftop Book Club.