Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano is a remarkable ode to the power inherent in the belief that everyone deserves love. The novel cleverly references Little Women as four of the main characters are sisters similar to the March siblings. Hello Beautiful never forces connections to the classic tale but instead intertwines them seamlessly. Most of the action takes place over a few decades beginning in 1978 in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood with its blend of Mexican and Italian communities and on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston. Napolitano captures the old Lozano Library, murals, taverns, and parks that make Pilsen unique. Her attention to detail also contributes to strong portraits of each of the four sisters, their parents, and their brother-in-law William who are well-delineated characters whose actions realistically support the ingenious plot. 

Julia, the eldest sister, is a Northwestern student and a careful planner who’s mapped every detail of her life. When she meets William, a basketball player who’s studying history, she guides him toward becoming a history professor and doesn’t realize how much he loves basketball when a knee injury keeps him from playing. William, whose three-year-old sister died when he was only a few days old, has never felt deserving of love because his parents’ grief left them incapable of showing him affection. When he joins Julia’s large, expressive Italian family, he’s enveloped in their inclusiveness and total involvement in each other. Julia orchestrates their actions including her pregnancy shortly after they marry. When their daughter arrives, William falls into a deep depression and they divorce when he fears he will ruin his daughter’s life. 

I refuse to spoil this beautiful story by giving away the surprising twists that occur in each of the sisters’ and William’s lives and in their learning to find ways to accept that they are worthy of being loved and of loving others after Julia and William divorce. In addition to Julia, each of her sisters is unique. I was so invested in them that I found myself crying happy tears when each character found ways of connection and acceptance along with tears of sadness when circumstances interfered. Napolitano also built remarkable minor characters that I adored. William and Julia’s daughter Alice, a precocious child, had me on tenterhooks with worry because she was so well portrayed and I was invested in her future. My favorite character is William’s former teammate Kent who nurtures him and helps him find self-worth in a career he loves. The way Kent enables William to find himself and love again is both poignant and strong. Supportive male friendships that aren’t caricatures are seldom seen in novels today making their relationship one to celebrate.

Each character in this novel is real to me so I was tempted to drive to Pilsen to walk the streets, enter the parks, and stare at the murals because I was certain I’d see members of the Padavano family there. This is a novel filled with beauty and sadness because that’s real life and it’s made even more real because of its setting.

Napolitano’s 2020 novel Dear William captured me with its caring rendering of the life of a boy who was the only survivor of a plane accident. It also showed how we can become whole by loving one another. In Hello Beautiful, Napolitano outdoes herself with a cast of characters that teaches us that life is hard, but we can endure. 

Summing it Up: Read Hello Beautiful for a big-hearted family saga that will envelop you completely as you enter Chicago’s Pilsen community and become a part of the Padavano family. Select this for your book club as these characters will remain with you and you’ll want to talk about them with friends. 

For Chicagoans, this is a must-read with the neighborhood settings and even a brief visit to the glory days of the Chicago Bulls.

Rating: 5 Stars 

Publication Date: March 14, 2023

Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Book Club

Author Website: https://annnapolitano.com/ 

What Others are Saying:

Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ann-napolitano/hello-beautiful/ 

New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/11/books/review/hello-beautiful-ann-napolitano.html  

Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/9780593243732 

“This sumptuous family saga is one of those rare novels whose singular characters are so beautifully rendered, it’s as if they’re your best friends, and you’re grateful to be in their orbit. Napolitano’s homage to Little Women, albeit set in late-20th century Chicago, will prompt you to slow down as you read, never wanting the book to end. When it does, prepare for tears.”—Oprah Quarterly

“Sweeping . . . With the vibrant and close-knit Pilson neighborhood playing a supporting role, Napolitano’s latest novel investigates the deep, maddeningly frustrating, and ever-present love of family, whether tied by genetics or by choice.”—Booklist, starred review

“This is a richly woven story about family, but it’s also a unique take on Little Women. There are no heroes or villains here, only people—flawed and loving and striving like the rest of us. ‘Generosity’ is the word that comes to mind when I reflect on this gorgeous novel.”—Allegra Goodman, New York Times bestselling author of The Cookbook Collector and Sam

“Hello Beautiful is the work of a great author at the height of her powers. Equally immersive, emotional, and brilliantly crafted, this is an early contender for best novel of the year.”—J. Ryan Stradal, New York Times bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest and The Lager Queen of Minnesota



  1. I'm sure the book is worthy, and I'm definitely going to read it, but I just have to say that this is one of the best-written reviews I've ever read! You do a great job of describing the book without spoiling, and your insightful comments about the characters are stellar.

  2. Thank you. I appreciate your expertise and kindness. Your comment means a lot.