This book definitely gets shelved under the heading quirky, and I mean that in the very best of ways. On one level it is about a boy scout who assigned to what used to be known in the UK many moons ago as Bob-a-job, or in other words helping those in need, to 104 year old Ona Vitkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who has lived in the US since she was just four. We soon learn that Ona Vitkus has rejected many previous helpers but “the boy”, as he is referred to throughout the book, with his meticulous ways wins her over with his seriousness.
As their bond grows over biscuits and tea parts of Ona’s life that haven’t before been revealed to anyone, leak out. In time when When ‘the boy’ asks if she’ll answer a long list of pre-set questions for a scouting badge, she agrees to him recording her answers, and so even as the story moves on in the present, we hear so much about her past in her own inimitable words. This was a great technique as these recordings tell us so much about Ona even when she is being evasive. When Ona becomes interested in the facts that her scout has at his fingertips and if not there they are definitely in his notebook, she learns that the most interesting of these come from the Guinness Book of Records. As they discuss the wide variety of things that can get you a spot in this book, they hatch a plot to win Ona a slot and the planning begins, breathing new life into Ona.
We learn early on that the boy doesn’t turn up one week and Ona thinks that she had been overly optimistic to believe he was different, and then Quinn turns up in his place, Quinn is the boy’s father and he diligently takes on the chores but will it be enough to restore her faith in humanity or does she even want him to?
This is a book about a lot of things, a woman’s unimaginable long life, a boy who is a misfit, a father who has been delinquent and a mother who despairs. There is a lot of sadness lifted by goodness, this was a book which has you rooting for just about everyone who graces its pages because as unlikely as the story is, it feels absolutely authentic. One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was that despite the subject matter it stayed well away of sentimentality and because of that it made me think and really put myself in the shoes of each of the characters rather than shying away from the overt emotion. The author has given us all, no matter your background, enough hooks for each character to picture their life, before and after ‘the boy’, and now I will sound mawkish in a way totally avoided by Monica Wood, we are shown how life should be lived, a better life, one that gives to others.
I’d like to thank the publishers Headline who sent me a copy of this book to review and so this review is my thanks to them. The One-in-a-Million Boy will be published on 5 April 2016 and definitely gets my vote as the “most unlike any book I’ve ever read”