Prepare yourself to be sad; this novel begins on a tragic note. William Waters is less than a week old when his 3-year-old sister Caroline, suffering from a fever and cough, dies suddenly. His parents find her dead in her crib.
The devastation of Caroline’s death leaves the parents incapable of looking at William directly or loving him. His childhood is punctuated by silences, disregard, and ambivalence. He often feels invisible, certainly undeserving of love, and acutely lonely. He is not physically abused, but the emotional neglect leaves deep scars.
As a youth, his refuge is a neighborhood park, a basketball court, and a group of boys who invite him to play. Tall, gangly, reticent, and so ready to be accepted, he falls under the spell of the bouncing ball. Its constant rhythm dribbling through his being gives him a sense of balance and belonging.
Welcome to the FamilyIt’s here, in the late ‘70s, that his life changes dramatically when he catches the attention of Julia Padavano. She’s ambitious, very spirited, and laser-focused on having and making William into the husband of her dreams. He’s enchanted by her loveliness and seemingly goes along with her program for their future.
Julia is a package deal. She comes with three inseparable sisters. Sylvie, a year or so younger than Julia, works in the local library. She dreams big and the love of her life will come from the pages of a Brontë novel. The two younger girls, Emeline and Cecelia, are twins. Emeline is the nurturer, and Cecelia, the artist. Their mother Rose rules the roost, and Charlie, the father, has a generous spirit.
It is into this, at times, chaotic, family that William is embraced and welcomed. He is overwhelmed by this newfound contentment in such sharp contrast to his emotionally deprived childhood.
William and Julia wed, and her “to-do” list of their expected success and happiness includes a child.
Masterfully Crafted ConflictThis is a complex family saga written with poignancy and keen perspective. Ms. Napolitano’s characters shine through their flaws and foibles.
As a reader, the author’s finely woven narrative is so alluring and visceral that you feel like you are in the room with the sisters when they are sharing their joys and sorrows or with William on a late-night walk when his doubt overshadows his faith.
One of the sisters, Cecelia, is an artist—in a big way. She garners a reputation for painting expansive murals on the sides of buildings often in areas that are run-down. Her larger-than-life images are bold in style and color. They embody a visual permanence that the author uses as a strong symbolic force giving strength to her characters as they wrestle with the ebb and flow of life’s vicissitudes.
The title of the book, “Hello Beautiful,” is a greeting that you’ll see a few times sprinkled throughout the text. It’s used sparingly but its nuance is revelatory. The father, Charlie, will use it when he addresses one of his daughters. For them, it’s a validation of their inner worth and luminescence in his life.
While the book does not have huge religious overtones, the acknowledgement of unconditional love and acceptance, forgiveness and grace are deeply expressed by the father. Charlie looks at his daughters with God’s glasses, as everyone should: All are deserving and worthy of love, all are beautiful.
It’s hard not to see shades of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” in the four sisters—a modern-day version perhaps, but uniquely its own. There are powerful bonds between the sisters. They could all be versions of one spirited and soulful being.
William and his band of basketball brothers share similar strength but in a myriad of different ways. Their friendship is tied to a mutual love of the game, an understanding of what makes an athlete tick, what makes them vulnerable and what makes them indomitable.
This novel is extremely emotional, relatable, and penetrating. Anyone who has navigated the intricacies of family relationships will easily connect with these characters sharing not only their burdens but their blessings especially when freed from the bondage of their secrets. With the weight lifted, lightness is given a chance to breathe.
I was totally immersed in this read. There is searing pain in it, the pain of ruptured bonds once thought sacred and unbreakable between people who love and are loved.
There is also incredible healing and hope and light that shines so brilliantly that it will surprise you with its beauty.