Saturday, March 2, 2024

Ann Napolitano's Hello Beautiful shows how love flows through basketball, family, depression, and sorrow

Hello Beautiful is Ann Napolitano’s fourth novel (I haven't read the others, but the third one, Dear Edward, is now a show on Apple TV+) and it's a gorgeous epic told from the various perspectives of an interesting family living in Chicago and New York City from the 1960s through the 1980s.

William Waters is born in 1960 and we learn immediately that his sister dies when he is six days old. His parents never recover and William is left to grow up with almost no love at home. This childhood will haunt him throughout his life in the form of depression and sadness. It's gripping to watch him battle through that as he does indeed find love - through basketball and also through a group of four Chicago sisters named Padavano.

Spoilers from here: William is strikingly tall and he attends Northwestern on a hoops scholarship. His career is derailed by injury but he remains friends with some of his teammates after departing the team. During this time he falls in love with Julia, the eldest Padavano sister, but her perfectionism leads to him feeling like he'll never be able to do the things she's set out for him to accomplish. They get married and have a baby, but then William inexplicably decides he has to leave the family. He walks into Lake Michigan to kill himself but is saved by his basketball friends and Julia's more idealistic and romantic younger sister Sylvie. They then fall in love and get married. William becomes an expert on helping players avoid injuries and works for the Chicago Bulls. Julia moves with her baby to New York to become a striving, hard-working single mother. Despite their lifelong closeness, she doesn't talk to her sisters for the next 25 years and she tells her daughter Alice that her father is dead.

Alice's story takes center stage at the back of the novel. She is tall like her dad and the book leads up to Sylvie's death, which makes William tremendously sad but at the same time has the potential to make him and the Padavano family whole again. I loved the book, which is a deep character story, even if William is difficult to fully understand and the ability of the Padavanos to love him through much of his shifting allegiance to Julia and then Sylvie is bordeline unbelievable.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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