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Ann Napolitano’s Hello Beautiful is a beautiful and heart-wrenching novel that explores the complex and multifaceted nature of love, family, and loyalty. The novel draws inspiration from Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic, Little Women, and presents a moving portrait of what is possible when we choose to love someone not in spite of who they are, but because of it.
To read my book club questions for Hello Beautiful, click here.
The story follows William Waters, who grew up in a house silenced by tragedy, where his parents could hardly bear to look at him, much less love him. But when he meets the spirited and ambitious Julia Padavano in his freshman year of college, it’s as if the world has lit up around him. With Julia comes her family, as she and her three sisters are inseparable. With the Padavanos, William experiences a newfound contentment, and every moment in their house is filled with loving chaos.
However, darkness from William’s past surfaces, jeopardizing not only Julia’s carefully orchestrated plans for their future, but the sisters’ unshakeable devotion to one another. The result is a catastrophic family rift that changes their lives for generations. Will the loyalty that once rooted them be strong enough to draw them back together when it matters most?
Napolitano has created a rich and complex cast of characters, each with their own unique personality, strengths, and flaws. The Padavano sisters are finely described, and it’s entirely plausible that the girls envision themselves from time to time as the March sisters from Little Women. The presence of a dreamy, poetic father and a hardworking, long-suffering mother also adds to this parallel.
At the center of the story is William, who is a beautifully flawed character that readers can’t help but feel for. He grows up with no memory of his sister, Caroline, a lovable redhead who died at age three when he was a mere six days old. Her absence engulfs his early years, and her death has left his parents emotionally frozen and unable, or unwilling, to forge even a cursory connection with their remaining child. Overlooked and neglected at home, William’s only solace becomes his love of basketball. The sole place he feels comfortable is a court with a hoop, and his social contacts are mostly limited to his school teammates, who watch with amazement as he reaches the towering height of 6-foot-7.
As the novel progresses, William’s character develops, and we witness the slow and painful decline of his mental health. He gradually sinks into a crippling depression that ultimately results in the breakdown of his marriage to Julia and his distancing from their infant daughter, Alice. Relationships between and among William and all of the Padavanos rupture and realign over the ensuing decades as Napolitano spins a saga of familial love, deception, and hope for healing while adeptly highlighting each family member’s unique position in the narrative.
One of the main themes of the book is the complexity of familial relationships and how love can both damage and heal families. Napolitano’s exploration of the Padavano family, in particular, is incredibly moving, and the way she portrays their relationships with each other is both authentic and heart-wrenching. The Padavano sisters are all unique, with their own quirks and personalities, but they share an unbreakable bond that allows them to weather the storms that come their way.
Another theme of the book is the power of forgiveness. The characters in the book all make mistakes, but Napolitano shows that it’s possible to move past those mistakes and find redemption. This is especially true for William, who spends much of the book carrying the weight of his past mistakes. But as he begins to confront his demons and make amends for his actions, he finds a sense of peace that he’s been missing for years.
Napolitano’s writing style is captivating and lyrical, and her descriptions of the characters’ emotions and inner turmoil are incredibly poignant. The novel is filled with beautiful prose that is both poetic and insightful. The influence of Walt Whitman is felt throughout the book, from epigraph to end, as characters come to terms with their roles in an evolving universe.
The ending of the book is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Without giving too much away, I will say that Napolitano does an excellent job of wrapping up the various storylines while still leaving the reader with a sense of possibility. The characters in the book have all been through so much, but they’ve also grown and changed, and there’s a sense that they’ll be able to move forward with their lives.
In conclusion, Hello Beautiful is an emotionally charged and compelling novel that explores the complexities of love, loss, and family. Ann Napolitano’s writing style is masterful, and her ability to create realistic characters and evoke deep emotions in readers is commendable. She has a way of capturing the beauty and tragedy of life and presenting it in a way that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
The novel is a poignant reminder that life is fragile and that our relationships with others can either lift us up or tear us down. It is a story about the enduring power of family and the lengths to which we will go to protect those we love. As the author writes in the book, “Family is a kind of love that has nothing to do with romance, nothing to do with obligation, nothing to do with blood.”
If you’re looking for a book that will touch your heart, make you think deeply about life, and leave you feeling a range of emotions, then Hello Beautiful is definitely worth reading. It’s a story that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.
I hope you enjoyed my book review for Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano! And as always, I wish you happy reading! ❤️