Wednesday, June 14, 2023

REVIEW: Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano



Hello Beautiful immediately grabbed my attention and I had to actually use it as my reward for getting work done to force myself to put it down; I was completely taken by William and the Padavano family. 

Young William's story was heartbreaking and informed so much of his adult life; he seemed to believe that he was unworthy of real friendship and real love and when it was offered to him, he didn't always know what to do with it. He lived the first part of his life carefully shielding himself from the hurt that his parents continually foisted upon him through their neglect--their barely going through the motions of being a parent to this precious young boy. When he leaves them for college his chance to know something different is right there, and while he does eventually take the opportunities, he always lived such a careful, quiet, risk averse life. Even in his happiest years, you could sense his comfort with living within the routine and boundaries he'd created --to me this just showed how deeply embedded his childhood hurt and loneliness lived within him. By the end, though, the hope of a future that would continue his growth of character shined brightly.

A huge part of William's story (or maybe it's more apt to say he's a huge part of their story?), are Julia and Sylvie. The eldest Padavano sisters would play a part in his growth and grief and hope and happiness through the years. These sisters, all four of them, were hard to look away from. They loved each other fiercely and deeply-which made when they hurt each other or surprised each other feel like earthquakes in their lives.

Julia, the oldest, was controlling. She was known as the fixer, and was always the first one to jump in with a solution to a problem. When she wanted something, she had a single-minded focus and really couldn't fathom things any other way than the way she wanted it. When there was a shift or a change, she would almost will it back to the way she wanted it. Julia was also the one who could cut people out with almost surgical precision. Her abilities to be a fixer, a problem solver, willful, and stubborn were a double edged sword; these were the things that helped her become successful but left her without so much of what she needed and loved. I wanted to hate her but I couldn't; I wanted to feel sorry for her and that came sparingly. 

Sylvie, on the other hand, as flawed as she was, was so easy for me to love. She was accepting and warm and a dreamer. She made life changing choices that were hard and brave and caused her so much love and so much grief and it's through her eyes that we see and learn so much about her other sisters and other family and friends. Her chapters fleshed out so many things and offered a perspective that was honest and full of hope.

Rounding out these three characters are Cecelia and Emmeline, Izzy, Rose, Charlie, and Kent. Each of these characters influenced Julia, Sylvie, and William in ways that were loving, in their own special ways.

The family interactions, the losses and gains, the grief and love, and the exploration of what love is and what it can look like were stamped onto every chapter of this novel. I loved the imagery, the characterization, and some of the wonderfully profound pearls of wisdom that came with getting to know these characters. "Grief is love...Forgiveness is too".

Maybe I loved this novel because I've been facing a crisis of my mortality, alongside my friends and family; or maybe I loved this novel because it was so well written that I will carry these characters and this reading experience in my heart for a long while. 



William Waters grew up in a house silenced by tragedy, where his parents could hardly bear to look at him, much less love him—so 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: Sylvie, the family’s dreamer, is happiest with her nose in a book; Cecelia is a free-spirited artist; and Emeline patiently takes care of them all. With the Padavanos, William experiences a newfound contentment; every moment in their house is filled with loving chaos.

But then 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?

An exquisite homage to Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic, 
Little WomenHello Beautiful is a profoundly moving portrait of what is possible when we choose to love someone not in spite of who they are, but because of it.

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