Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

It is a long time since I cried at the end of a book but that is exactly what I did with this one as the Padavano sisters and family mended their hearts.

William Waters stands as the lynchpin of the story, for me, with the four Padavano girls swirling around him. They are a close knit family with a dreaming father and a mother that holds everything together. As one character leaves the family, others move in and this constant ebb and flow of people and love moves throughout the book, slowly at the beginning and end and much quicker in the middle.

Julia and William marry with their present and future dictated by Julia, for which William is only too grateful. She is so busy planning their next steps that she doesn’t notice William slipping from an already depressed state into a severe depression, ending up in the local lake. They divorce and William gives up all rights to his daughter, chased by memories of his childhood home.

The death of the Padavano father is a critical incident in the book from which a lot flows. It is after his death, the family comes to see his quiet love and understanding of each daughter that he provided, rather than the failure he was at work and the alcoholic he was to try and forget. From this time, the family splits apart for the first but not last time and re-forms itself in different variations because each daughter has a secret that she carries with her.

There are a couple of literary connections in the book. The Padavanos liken themselves to the March sisters in Little Women by Louisa May Allcot, and indeed, we have a bookish sister, an artist, one that is concerned with her appearance and one that dies. Napolitana draws each character so well that we can see them all clearly as individuals from childhood to womanhood.

The second connection is drawn by the author and links to Walt Whitman, a poet concerned with the cyclical nature of life and death with many of his themes finding themselves in the book: ideas about the individual, nation (or family in this case), body and soul. William tried to write, what Julia called a book, but was really a journal and this gave Sylvie the idea that she could also write.

“It’s not about making it good.” She had gotten the idea, the possibility, from reading William’s book, of course. And from Walt Whitman too. . . And Whitman had rewritten, expanded, cut and reimagined his poems across his life. He had created not one beautiful book but different attempts at excellence and beauty as he aged and loved and reconsidered everything.


And this reimagining, cutting and expanding as they aged is exactly what the Padavano family does.

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