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…
This is a touching, charming novel about an unlikely friendship between a boy and the elderly Lithuanian lady he’s helping called Ona – and indeed, it’s a story of the friendship between Ona and the boy’s father, too.
The story is told through various narrators, with the boy’s name never being disclosed – he is just ‘the boy’ throughout. You’d think this would make him appear hard to identify with, which perhaps it does in a way, but it also makes him seem enigmatic and a bit of a mystery whilst still being sweet and lovely. it seems no one else, apart from Ona, quite understood how he was thinking – not the other school kids, his family or the other people around him. Without giving too much away, it’s obviously from fairly near to the beginning that the boy this novel is about has some unusual behavioural trails and habits, and his obsession with records is a charming element which made me smile!
I found the novel to be a little slow moving at times, and though it’s very good at building up the characters and making you care about them, I wasn’t blown away by it. I’d seen a lot about this novel and I’m not sure this quite lived up to the hype, for me anyway. It’s certainly an enjoyable and poignant novel about friendship and family, and at times it had me tearing up without being overly sentimental, but I didn’t finish it and feel strongly about it, one way or another.
It’s definitely worth a read though – comparisons to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry aren’t a million miles off (though they’re quite different too, of course) and that sums up a bit of The One-in-a-Million Boy‘s quirkiness and charm.
Many thanks to the publisher Headline and to Netgalley for providing a copy of this novel in return for an honest review