Book Review

An engaging story of relationships we all must face

By Donna Bruno
Posted 5/15/24

A deeply moving book, “Hello Beautiful” focuses on the bond among the four close-knit Padavano sisters: the eldest Julia, the leader; …

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Book Review

An engaging story of relationships we all must face


‘Hello Beautiful’
By Ann Napolitano

A deeply moving book, “Hello Beautiful” focuses on the bond among the four close-knit Padavano sisters: the eldest Julia, the leader; and her siblings, Sylvie and twins Cecilia and Emeline. All are loved unconditionally by their father Charlie, whom their critical mother considers a less-than-perfect husband.

Disappointed in Charlie’s lack of ambition and meager salary, Rose focuses all her energy on her daughters. Enter William, Julia’s boyfriend, who is warmly embraced by the entire family, an affection and acceptance he has never known before. The product of a dysfunctional home with parents who cared little for him, William craves such a relationship as he enjoys with the Padavanos.

However, William has been emotionally and psychologically damaged by his sad, isolated, lonely childhood. This will manifest itself when he marries Julia and they have their first child, Alice. Julia has always micro-managed everyone’s life, including William’s; so, when in great distress, he leaves her, she is totally shocked.

According to her high standards, they are achieving the goals she established for them, which her passive, damaged husband has meekly followed. He felt so blessed to have found such a loving, highly disciplined, strong achiever, as well as the warm cocoon of her family, that he allowed himself to be swept up in his wife’s carefully-orchestrated plans for their future, which became overwhelming.

In addition, William is carrying two secrets which he hasn’t shared with anyone – one related to his cold-hearted parents and another related to his own personal desire for a career. Due to Julia’s high aspirations for him, he is on a track to become a college professor when his own personal wish is a vastly different career. This is a man struggling with his tragic past, and while his wife doesn’t “get it,” her sister Sylvie does. When a despondent and overwhelmed William attempts to take his own life, it will be Silvie, not Julia, who nurtures him back to life.

Lest I give away too much of a good plot, suffice it to say that this unbreakable bond between sisters will be severely frayed for many years. Only tragedy will bring the circle back together. While twins Cecelia and Emeline are developed to some degree, the author focuses mainly on Julia, Sylvie and the very troubled and complex William. Characterization is one of Napolitano’s chief talents, and here she gives each sister her own unique personality and depicts Willaim’s excruciating painful psychology.

There will be unexpected surprises throughout, one involving the baby Alice, whom Julia chooses to take away with her and raise in Chicago far from her family. Parallels are drawn between husband Willaim and Julia’s father, neither of whom was reliable or self-reliant. Much is devoted to friendship and its healing powers, as William’s two faithful and devoted friends assist him in recovering, as well as finding gratifying employment of his choice that taps his best abilities.

All the characters must face the most difficult questions: Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I doing this? They must dig deep into themselves to find the answers to those questions, and what they discover will transform their lives. Inner motivations will be examined. For one, Julia will discover that her attempts to “fix” other people – her parents, her sisters, her husband – has been a “fruitless endeavor.”

When first published last year (2023) , Oprah Winfrey chose this title for members of her book club, probably because it centers on family issues to which many can relate, which in turn, leads to discussion about relationships we all experience. Although not great literature, “Hello Beautiful” engages the reader.

Donna Bruno is a prizewinning author and poet recently recognized with four awards by National League of American Pen Women.

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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