‘Hello Beautiful’ features heartbreak, grief, forgiveness — all the stuff of great family drama

Ann Napolitano’s debut novel, “Dear Edward,” came out in 2020 and follows the 12-year-old sole survivor of an airplane crash that kills his entire immediate family. It’s about a young man who has to deal with — and move forward after — unthinkable loss.

Her new novel, “Hello Beautiful,” also deals with love, loss and lonely childhoods. But this one is so much more complex and emotionally layered, with poignant moments and stellar writing — and a slight nod to Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”

This is the story of a boy, William, whose older sister dies while his mother is in the hospital giving birth to him. The tragedy shakes his family to the core, and William grows up feeling neglected and unloved. He discovers basketball, which leads to a college scholarship, which leads to a relationship with Julia Padavano, the oldest of four sisters living in a happy but chaotic household in the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen.

The story chronicles the Padavano family over three decades. The family’s bonds are tested over and over, first with an unexpected pregnancy, and then when darkness from William’s past resurfaces. A rift between the sisters changes their lives for generations, and we follow the journey through several perspectives.

Napolitano’s writing brings life to these characters — realistic, believable, messy life — as we see their relationships evolve. There’s love, heartbreak, grief, forgiveness and all the stuff that makes up a great family drama. Easy to see why Oprah Winfrey chose “Hello Beautiful” as her 100th book-club pick. It’s perfect fodder for meaningful discussion. And do yourself a favor: Keep the Kleenex handy. This one’s a tear-jerker.

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