Miss Ona Vitkus has – aside from three months in the summer of 1914 – lived unobtrusively, her secrets fiercely protected.
The boy, with his passion for world records, changes all that. He is eleven. She is one hundred and four years, one hundred and thirty three days old (they are counting). And he makes her feel like she might be really special after all. Better late than never…
Only it’s been two weeks now since he last visited, and she’s starting to think he’s not so different from all the rest.
Then the boy’s father comes, for some reason determined to finish his son’s good deed. And Ona must show this new stranger that not only are there odd jobs to be done, but a life’s ambition to complete . . .
The One-in-a-Million Boy has been compared favourably to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and that immediately caught my attention as I adored Harold Fry, and have never read another book that even remotely made me feel similar to how that book did. This book deserves the comparison and it is every bit as wonderful.
It’s a remarkable tale of a young boy scout who has been assigned to Miss Ona Viktus to help her every Saturday throughout the summer. Miss Viktus is quick to judge the boys sent to her and often finds them wanting. This boy surprises her and she ends up being very taken with him. However, one day he fails to show up and after two missed Saturdays Ona starts to think she was mistaken and that he is just the same as all the rest. Then, after a fortnight, the boy’s father arrives to do his son’s work and so begins this beautiful exploration of a boy’s life, and a healing process for many of the people left behind.
I have to say that I completely and utterly fell in love with this novel, it is so beautiful. I wasn’t expecting it to be such an emotional read, but it both broke my heart and mended it.
The boy is such a wonderful character, he is only in the book for a short time and yet he is in it the whole way through. He is a larger than life boy who had so much to offer the world, he is often misunderstood but is actually so clever. He sees the world in a slightly different way, and he is obsessed with order and counting but his insights stopped me in my tracks at times.
The boy’s innocence combined with Ona’s age and life experience makes for a wonderful pairing. He gives Ona a new lease of life when he decides that he will find a world record that she can break. It becomes his mission to find one that can be hers and together they embark on this task. The boy also has to write a paper for school and decides to interview Miss Viktus about her life because she is 104 and he is sure that no one in his class will find someone older than her to speak to. There are segments running through the novel of Ona’s recorded interview – but only her side as while the boy was present he didn’t want to speak on tape. This makes for a real insight into Ona’s life but one that really brings you up short at times as the simplicity of the way she says things belies some of the heartbreaking things that she has experienced in her life. It’s possible to read so much into her responses as the boy has obviously whispered a question to her.
The boy’s father, Quinn, enters Ona’s life in a grudging way, seeing it as both a form of punishment and a way of making up a lifetime of being a mostly absent father. Quinn and On a eventually come to accept each other and become friends of a sort. Quinn is trying to absolve himself of all the things he’s got wrong and Ona, having experienced loss herself comes to understand what has made quinn the way he is.
This is such a well-written novel. It’s so clever how the boy is never named and yet by the end you feel as if you know him, as if he is a real person you know. It’s a poignant reminder that even the more invisible people in society have something to contribute, and something to leave behind when they go.
The novel is beautiful and moving, I was in tears reading the last chapter. The One-in-a-Million Boy really does leave a lasting legacy of hope; it shows how we can overcome grief and tragedy, how we can atone for our sins, and how we can find happiness again when we think it is gone forever. It is a novel that will make you laugh, it will make you think about your own life and your loved ones but it is never mawkish. It is written in the ordered way the boy would have approved off and it manages to avoid the sentimentalism that Ona so disliked. It’s ultimately all about love and loss and redemption.
I rate this book 5 out of 5 and my copy will now have pride of place on my all-time favourites bookcase. I already want to go back and read this novel again, I miss the boy and Ona already!
The One-in-a-Million Boy is published today and available from all good book shops.
To celebrate this wonderful novel I’m running a giveaway for one brand new hardback copy of The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood; it’s an international giveaway so is open to everyone. Please click the link below to enter: