In today’s review, I am going to dive deep into one of my favorite books – Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano.
This modern take on the classic novel, Little Women, is a multigenerational tale of love, loss, and bravery. It celebrates the unbreakable bond of sisterhood while also highlighting its fragilities.
Napolitano has created a sincere, profoundly moving book that will stay with readers long after reading it.
It’s not a lighthearted read, as it explores issues like depression and suicide, but the author’s talent for weaving together complex characters and beautiful prose has made this one of my top reads of 2023.
Hello Beautiful – Ann Napolitano
GENRE: Literary fiction
PUB DATE: March 14, 2023
TWs: depression, suicide
This modern take on the classic novel, Little Women, is a multigenerational tale of love, loss, and bravery. It celebrates the unbreakable bond of sisterhood while also highlighting its fragilities
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?
The characters in Hello Beautiful are rich, distinct, and believable. They feel so real that they make you want to visit Chicago to meet them.
As you get to know these characters from childhood to old age, you feel like you grew up alongside them. When they are happy, you feel happy; when they grieve, a part of you grieves with them.
This is a testament to Napolitano’s excellent characterization and her ability to bring these characters to life.
William was raised believing he was unworthy of love after a family tragedy left his parents unable to care for him. However, basketball became his outlet, the one thing that gave him a sense of belonging.
This all changed when he met Julia. With William’s uncertainty about his calling in life and Julia’s unwavering certainty about her own, they fall quickly in love and get married.
However, William soon realizes that the pressures of marriage are straining his ability to cope, and he feels himself moving further and further away from his true self.
Eventually, he becomes severely depressed. From the lowest point of his life, he is forced to accept the broken pieces of himself and find a new way to make them fit together.
My heart ached for William and his mental health struggles, but this made his character arc one of my favorites in the book. I felt so proud of him by the end for what he had accomplished and how hard he had worked to get there.
He is one of the most raw and achingly honest characters I have encountered.
The Padavano Sisters
The Padavano sisters will capture your heart. Julia, the oldest, is an ambitious go-getter who plans her life down to the very second and takes care of her sisters like a second mother.
Sylvie, a hopeless romantic with a huge heart, prefers books to people. Emeline and Cecilia live in their own world, as twins often do, but they are opposites in many ways.
“…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.”
Although they each had unique personalities, the one trait they shared was bravery and a willingness to create their own paths in life. I enjoyed reading about their close bond and how it was tested during their personal struggles.
At first, she was difficult to like. Her inability to cope when things didn’t go her way made her seem unempathetic. She is most like her mother, Rose, and I never warmed up to her because of her stubbornness.
However, towards the end of the story, when she learns to let down her walls and stop running from her past, she becomes more relatable, and it’s easier to empathize with her insecurities.
She’s my favorite sister because I saw a lot of myself in her. She has a huge heart, and her head is always inside a book dreaming of finding the kind of love that will sweep her off her feet.
“Imagine that I’m a house, and when I find my great love, I’ll become the entire world. Our love will show me so much more than I’m able to see on my own”.
When she loves, she loves big and wholeheartedly. She’s the type of person who will look for her own way of doing things, even if it goes against what everyone else is telling her to do.
I admired her journey and the brave choices she made to be true to herself.
She is the daughter of Julia and William, and I enjoyed getting to know her story later in the book.
Through her perspective, we see the ripple effect of choices made by previous generations and how parents shape their children’s lives both consciously and subconsciously.
Although we only get a little of her point of view, what we do get is necessary to complete the story.
I can only imagine how long it took Ann Napolitano to construct this novel. The writing is beautiful and poetic, as she uses everyday living and metaphors to describe life concepts.
- “Words seemed to be harder for her to reach, like fruit in the highest branches of a tree.“
- “Sylvie was composed of question marks and feelings that she didn’t know what to do with, as if her hands were full and she was wearing pants with no pockets.”
- “Otherwise, her size bothered them, like a piece of mail they couldn’t find a mailbox for.”
- “The dream was now in the air, at risk of the elements, beyond her grasp.”
The various points of view tie everything together well. I was so engrossed in the story that I never became overwhelmed by the different character perspectives.
One of my favorite aspects of the author’s writing is the undertone of foreboding throughout her dialogues. It feels like a deep meaning is hidden in each word, and it made me appreciate how intentional the author was with her word choice.
While the plot moves along at an appropriate pace, I was so captivated and engaged with the layers of each character that I barely thought about the plot while reading it.
I saw a few plot twists coming, but it did not take away from the overall enjoyment.
As mentioned previously, the author delves into heavy themes like depression and suicide, so be careful reading this book if you’re sensitive to these topics.
However, I felt she handled them sensitively, and I empathized deeply with William. It made me want to reach inside the pages to help him out.
Hello Beautiful is a captivating family drama that explores the importance of staying true to oneself, the power and sacrifices of love, and the difficult choices that can test the strength of family bonds.
Despite the emotional rollercoaster that Napolitano takes the reader on, the book ultimately leaves you with a sense of hope and optimism.
This is truly storytelling at its finest and a must-read book for 2023.
Enjoyed this review? Then be sure to add ‘Hello Beautiful’ to your TBR. And if you have already read this book and have some thoughts to share, drop them in the comments below. I would love to hear them!