Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano
Date published: March 14, 2023
Date finished: May 8. 2023
I will admit that the claim that this is a “retelling” of Little Women put this book on my radar. While considering this to be a retelling is taking it too far, seeing it as an homage to Alcott’s classic is a fair assessment.
We meet four sisters: Julia, Sylvie, Cecelia, and Emmeline. The four are incredibly close as they grow in the Pilsner area of Chicago. Then Julia brings home William, a young man who caught her eye in class at Northwestern University, and this changes the family forever.
There was so much to love about this book. The prose is gorgeous, and the characters are drawn expertly and completely. As someone who was essentially raised as an only child, I ached for not having the experience of growing up with siblings close to my own age. Napolitano also brought to life the Pilsner neighborhood of Chicago, one of my favorite cities.
Parts of this book made me physically uncomfortable. However, I believe that was intentional. I found myself feeling the same unease that (some of) the characters were feeling. Instead of faulting the book for this, I give Napolitano kudos for her skill in sucking me into this world.
I have two criticisms. The first is, admittedly, minor. There were times when the dialogue seemed unrealistic to me. I would stop and think to myself, “Would someone really talk like that? Really?” While this happened often enough to be noticeable, it only had a minor impact on my enjoyment.
The larger issue I need to address in vague terms to avoid spoiling the plot. Something happens and, in the course of it happening, two characters are completely stripped of any agency. The idea is that the characters are not making choices and have no ability to do anything besides what happens. I find this sort of thing frustrating, especially in a book where the characters are otherwise expertly drawn. I feel that the story would have been stronger if Napolitano had allowed the characters to acknowledge that they did have a choice and they were choosing to do this thing. Not only would it have been more believable, but it would have also strengthened the plot overall.
Beyond those two points, this book was a joy to experience. It is the first book I’ve read by Napolitano, but I began to put her previous books on hold before I even finished this one.