|Finished||April 10, 2023|
|Additional Information||NY Times Bestseller; Oprah’s Book Club Pick|
William is boy, young man, adult who was never loved by his parents.
“Kids and adults had always looked past him, as if he were invisible. His parents hardly looked at him at all. William had accepted all of this and thought it was understandable; he was after all, boring and forgettable.”Page 4
Julia, on the other hand came from a family of four sisters, a loving father and a strong mother.
“The sisters were so close that, in reality, [Julia] never operated alone; the four Padavano girls shared their lives, celebrating and utilizing one another’s strengths, covering for one another’s weaknesses. Julia was the organizer and leader, Sylvie the reader and measured voice, Emeline the nurturer, and Ceclia the artist.”Page 95
William and Julia meet in college and this mismatched pair marry and William is pulled into the world of sisters. Julia sees the superficial things in William’s life as a way to gain the future she dreams of. But it may not be a world William can provide. His upbringing has left William with little capacity for growth; but he was happy to be guided by Julia.
“…[William] admired how Julia saw her life as a system of highways to be expertly navigated, and he was grateful to be in her car.”Page 45
But if they married and lived happily ever after, we wouldn’t have a novel would we. William cannot provide Julia with what she has planned. He has crushing depression and when his wife becomes pregnant he feels that the best thing he can do for his daughter is to step out of their lives permanently. He is doing to his daughter what his parents did to him but this time with best intentions of not burdening his child.
This crisis combines with others to break the once close knit sisters and mother. We follow William, the sisters, and the children over the next 20+ years as they struggle to find their ways through life without the strong support they need.
It’s a book about family; William never really had one – his parents had checked out when we was just a few days old – and the once strong bonds between Julia, Sylvie, and the twins are broken. William continues to have connections with Julia’s three sisters. He is also supported by his friends and teammates from his college basketball team.
We witness their individual journeys toward rebuilding a future. Each chapter tells the story from one person’s point of view. Will Julia, Sylvia, Emeline and Cecilia be able to rebuild their extended family? Does William grow? If I shared more details about those fractures I’d be spoiling the plot.
I’ve given this powerful novel a full 5 stars. This is a New York Times bestseller and was an Oprah’s Book Club Pick. In lesser hands, this could have turned into a sub-genre I’ve taken to calling misery porn (See Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin). But Ann Napolitano engages fully with each of the characters so we see their emotional troubles as they bump through life. She uses repeating metaphors of sewing – both putting things together and cutting them apart – and ice that drive the story. Be forewarned; keep the tissues nearby in the second half of the novel.
After finishing reading this novel, I checked out the TV series Dear Edward – which is based on her novel of the same name. Hello Beautiful is much stronger. At times while I watched Dear Edward I wondered how much misery can be piled onto these poor people. In fact, Kirk’s Reviews ends its review with this:
Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.Kirkus Reviews
But Hello Beautiful doesn’t fall into this trap; we see the enduring love.
Finally, let me quote the Kirkus review of both this novel and Dear Edward;
“As in Napolitano’s recent Dear Edward (2020), heartbreaking circumstances shatter the lives of relatable human characters who are unprepared for the task of building a meaningful life.Kirkus Reviews
Napolitano’s characters can break your heart as they work to mend their own.”