Fiction, women's fiction

Book Review: Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

“You’re depressed, not crazy. It’s not insane to be depressed in this world. It’s more sane than being happy. I never trust those upbeat individuals who grin no matter what’s going on. Those are the ones with a screw loose, if you ask me.”

William Waters is born during a time when his family experiences the loss of a child. This event sends his parents into a state of apathy for living and for their roles as parents to their son. William, who grows up neglected and barely acknowledged by his parents, escapes his household through a basketball scholarship. In college, he meets Julia Padavanos, an ambitious and self assured young lady who sweeps up Williams in her plans for their future.  With Julia comes her family; she is inseparable from her three younger sisters: Sylvie, who is happiest with her nose in a book and who is waiting for her one true love who she thinks she will instantly recognize and vice versa. Cecelia, the family’s artist who suddenly ends up pregnant at 17 and Emeline, who believes she is the Beth in their sisterhood (the weak sister and the one who dies in the book Little Women). But then darkness from William’s past surfaces, jeopardizing not only Julia’s carefully orchestrated plans for their future, but the sisters’ unshakeable loyalty to one another.

“That Mark Twain quote about how the only reason for time is so everything doesn’t happen at once? I feel like everything that’s ever happened in my life is happening”

Napolitano treats her characters with such tenderness even in the face of so many bad decisions. The characters in this book felt real to me. I have 5 sisters and even though I would never make the decisions that these women make in the book, the complexities of their relationships are very well written and fleshed out. Their mother’s reaction to Cecelia’s pregnancy that mirrored so much of her own young years was so interesting to me. Even though the sisters’ dad was barely physically present in the pages, the way his influence on the girls shown through was so impressive to read. The title of the book comes from what their dad would say to them every time they entered a room – Hello Beautiful!

This book also explores male friendships – the relationship between Kent and William was so heartwarming to read. You could tell a woman wrote this friendship. The way they were there to carry each other and see each other through the world from the first time they met was very touching to read. It was great to see William step outside his family and meet people who were prepared to carry him through his worst days.

“William once had the thought that his fiancé (Julia) seemed to stride about the world with a conductor’s wand, while Sylvie brandished a book, and Cecelia, a paintbrush. Emeline, though, kept her hands free in order to be helpful or to pick up and soothe a neighborhood child”

When an unexpected tragedy occurs in the family and Sylvie makes a bold decision to choose her happiness over what people would say and over her sisters’ feelings, the bond between the sisters is shattered in a very irreparable way causing one of the sisters to be set afloat on her own in New York City, abandoning Chicago, the city she has grown up in and loved all these years.

While I would never make the choice Sylvie made, I saw it coming from miles away and I’m fascinated by how much Napolitano’s writing doesn’t make us question it as much as we would have in the hands of a more careless writer. It happens and you just think: that’s life. This book revolves around mental health, family expectations, ambition and our definition of what love is supposed to be or look like.

“She was all of herself with him and even felt there was room for her to become more. When he rested his eyes on her, it was without judgment or expectation, and in that space, Sylvie felt her potential: for bravery, brilliance, kindness, joy. All of these sails rested on the deck of her ship; they were hers, but she hadn’t seen them before.”

I’ve only read one other Napolitano book, Dear Edward, which I reviewed here and didn’t quite like. I actually think she has made a fan out of me with this new book. I picked up Hello Beautiful because it is an Oprah Book Club pick and even though I do not keep up with any of the celebrity book clubs, I was intrigued because a lot of the reviews surrounding this book mentioned it being a Little Women retelling which you do not need to read to enjoy this book. Having read Little Women though, I think it made the plot predictable for me because I kept waiting to see how she would pick up the big plot points from Little Women which had to be included otherwise it would not be a retelling.

It’s really hard to review a character driven book because all the major plot lines you can discuss feel like spoilers that would ruin the reading the experience for someone else.Anyway, I truly enjoyed this book. I picked it up from a book store in the morning and finished it in 24 hours. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads and strongly recommend it.


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