‘Hello Beautiful’: A Sad but Profoundly Moving Story of Family

This relatable novel deals with relationships tinged with suffering, healing, and renewal.
‘Hello Beautiful’: A Sad but Profoundly Moving Story of Family
A mural in Chicago. One of the characters in “Hi Beautiful” is an artist who paints murals. (PICTOR PICTURES/Shutterstock)
Anita L. Sherman
11/30/2023
Updated:
1/3/2024
0:00

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.

The protagonist of the novel channels his energy into basketball and plays for the Northwestern Wildcats. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The protagonist of the novel channels his energy into basketball and plays for the Northwestern Wildcats. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
He’s comfortable defining himself as a basketball player and approaches moves with mathematical precision. His prowess on the court earns him a scholarship at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Welcome to the Family

It’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.

However, the birth of their daughter, Alice, brings to the surface the demons of William’s dark past. Julia’s plans are thwarted. The sisters’ loyalty to her and one another is shattered. The close-knit family becomes fractured and the chasm of their sorrow and grief spans decades.

Masterfully Crafted Conflict

This is a complex family saga written with poignancy and keen perspective. Ms. Napolitano’s characters shine through their flaws and foibles.
Ann Napolitano, author of "Hello Beautiful." (Jake Chessum/Ann Napolitano)
Ann Napolitano, author of "Hello Beautiful." (Jake Chessum/Ann Napolitano)

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.

Lozano Branch of the Chicago Public Library in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. In the novel "Hello Beautiful," the author refers to the Lozano Library, a favorite haunt of Sylvie Padavano, Julia's sister, who works there as a librarian. (Smart Chicago Collaborative/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY-DEED</a>)
Lozano Branch of the Chicago Public Library in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. In the novel "Hello Beautiful," the author refers to the Lozano Library, a favorite haunt of Sylvie Padavano, Julia's sister, who works there as a librarian. (Smart Chicago Collaborative/CC BY-DEED)

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.

Cover of "Hello Beautiful" by Ann Napolitano. (Dial Press)
Cover of "Hello Beautiful" by Ann Napolitano. (Dial Press)
‘Hello Beautiful’ By Ann Napolitano The Dial Press, March 14, 2023 Hardcover: 400 pages
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Anita L. Sherman is an award-winning journalist who has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for local papers and regional publications in Virginia. She now works as a freelance writer and is working on her first novel. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to four, and she resides in Warrenton, Va. She can be reached at [email protected]