Make no mistake about it: Monica Wood has delivered a heart-warming gem of a novel this autumn. The One-in-a-Million Boy is a story that plays on the heart strings in a simple but effective way, as the reader witnesses the unlikely coming together of young and old.
Ona Vitkus is 104-years-old, lives alone, and has kept her secrets closely guarded for every last one of those years. She is the last person that expects to find one final, meaningful friendship, but when the boy enters her life—initially to help out with domestic tasks, but instantly bringing the promise of something much more—that is exactly what she finds.
This strange child, just 11 years of age, is absent for the vast majority of the novel, but even though disaster strikes early, events centre around him. His love of words, of Guinness World Records, lists—and an ever-questioning thirst for knowledge and facts—sweeps Ona up as she begins to feel special for the first time in decades.
They form the most unlikely of relationships as they set out on a mission to get Ona into the record books, but when their friendship suddenly comes to a crushing close, Quinn, the boy’s father—guitar player, irresponsible father, but for all his faults loyal at heart—sets out to finish what his son started. He too initially arrives to continue with the odd jobs, but soon bonds with Ona through their shared grief.
Elsewhere, the boy’s mother is the most peripheral figure in the novel—and perhaps, from a character perspective, the least exciting—but The One-in-a-Million Boy bursts into life with an impromptu road trip that is unexpected, but brilliant in its execution. Ona has her own reasons for travelling, as we are drip fed her secrets in superbly crafted flashbacks that show her recorded conversations with the boy for a school history project. Yet she isn’t the only one: all the characters in this novel have their own secrets and crosses to bear.
Wood has written a book that plays on your emotions: it can be sad, funny and uplifting, often within the space of a few paragraphs. The boy is the thread that binds together an unlikely cast, but it is through emotions like grief and loss that we often find out the most about ourselves.
The boy remains nameless because he represents something bigger: in his pleasure for the things he loved—and the pursuit of those interests—he shows people how life should be lived. A valuable lesson, and one which Wood has delivered in what is a wonderful, poetic novel.
My thanks to the wonderful Caitlin Raynor and Headline Books for the ARC. The One-in-a-million-Boy is out April 5.