The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood is about the unlikely friendship between a 104-year-old woman named Ona Vitkus—“all those demure round letters in the first name, followed by the stalky surprise of the surname”—and the 11-year-old Boy Scout who has been doing her Saturday chores to earn a merit badge in community service. It is pretty much the lovechild of A Man Called Ove and A Prayer for Owen Meany.
We find out early in the novel that the boy has died suddenly when the boy’s father, Quinn, shows up on Ona’s doorstep to complete his son’s obligation. “Quinn’s inheritance, left to the father from the son: an old woman.”
Ona’s friendship with the boy and then the boy’s father trickles out in alternating chapters, her own century plus of life stories sprinkled throughout. Bird watching. Card tricks. Homemade cakes that taste like chocolate but are made with tomato soup. It’s all very whimsical, heartwarming and funny even as it explores the complexity of grief and regret.
Wood does an artful job of interlacing the past and the present, thread by thread. “Can memory be revisited to allow us to see now what we didn’t see then?”
Her prose is precise—“The truth of this hurt him like a soft, blue bruise.”—and her insights radiate warmth—“But that was before Ona thought him a gentleman and made him want to be one.” Most of all I am struck by the book’s voice, pathos and humor.
If there were a literary award for Best Quirky Dramedy (Dramatic Comedy), it would definitely go to Ona and her strange, lovely, one-in-a-million boy.
Best paired with tea poured from a good pot, grilled cheese and a strawberry shortcake.