Hello Beautiful Book Summary - Hello Beautiful Book explained in key points
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Hello Beautiful summary

Ann Napolitano

A Novel

25 mins
Table of Contents

    Hello Beautiful
    Summary of 4 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 4

    Four sisters, one secret

    William Waters can’t remember having been part of a happy family, though from the photos and home movies he’s seen, he suspects he was – for exactly six days. In 1960, six days after he was born, his older sister Caroline died from a fever, aged three. His parents were grief-stricken and, in their grief, became distant and resentful of William’s presence. He grew up feeling like an intruder on his parents' sadness. William was so used to being ignored that when a high school basketball coach noticed his talent, William was elated – not so much by the thought that he might have a future in basketball as by the sensation of being seen – really seen – by an adult for the first time in his life.

    William ends up winning a basketball scholarship to Chicago’s Northwestern University. As he leaves, he shakes his father’s hand in farewell, and is visited by the feeling that he may never see his parents again – that, in fact, in their eyes, his parents had only ever had one child, and that child wasn’t him. 

    In this way, college is both the end of one family and the beginning of another. Because once William arrives at Northwestern, someone else soon takes notice of him as well. Julia Padovano is a conscientious, if – in William’s first impressions – overly talkative student in the same history class as William. She has been watching William in class and she likes what she sees. 

    Julia has a plan for college. In fact, she has a plan for almost everything in her life, and in the lives of her three sisters. Specifically, in college she plans to meet someone who is agreeable, cautious, and hard-working. Basically, someone who is the opposite of her romantic, alcoholic father, Charlie, who has never provided his family with financial or emotional security. Julia and this hypothetical man will marry, set up a stable household, and from this foundation, they will work to pull her mother and sisters up with them. And William Waters seems to be just who Julia is looking for. 

    Unlike Julia, William has never given much thought to his future. He likes playing basketball – so he figures he might as well just keep doing that. It doesn’t occur to him that he might need a firmer plan, until he is speaking with his friend and teammate Kent. Kent, a Black man and the team’s superstar, reveals he plans to be a doctor. William realizes he needs a back-up plan outside of basketball, but can’t think of any.

    One day after class, Julia gives William her number, and tells him she will see him at his next basketball game. He realizes Julia has decided they’re going steady. He’s not unhappy about this fact.

    Soon after, Julia brings William home to meet her family. Her mother Rose is in the garden, which is full of blooming flowers. Her father Charlie is inside. After decades of an increasingly unsatisfying marriage, the two have come to a tacit arrangement – Rose gets the garden, Charlie gets the inside of the house, and their two paths cross as infrequently as possible. Sylvie is the second-oldest Padovano girl. She is a senior in high school, a hopelessly romantic assistant librarian. Her job at the library means she is never short of novels depicting turbulent, passionate love affairs. The library stacks also offer the perfect location for kissing the various male seniors who are smitten with her. Sylvie imposes a 90-second limit on their make-out sessions. She doesn’t want to get attached to any of these boys and views her precisely-timed clinches with them as rehearsals for the great love that will eventually define her life. Cecelia and Emeline, the youngest two sisters, are twins. Emeline is nurturing and introverted. Cecelia is artistic, and the more outgoing of the two. They act as their own unit, separate from the family, while still being close to their sisters. 

    William’s world soon crumbles when he suffers a knee injury that prevents him from pursuing a career in basketball. The truth is, he’s already admitted to himself that – injury or not – he is talented, but not talented enough to go pro. But he hasn’t formulated any kind of back-up plan, and doesn’t know where to start. Luckily, Julia steps in. She has a plan. William loves history; why not go to grad school, then become a professor? William agrees. And, for good measure, he proposes to Julia. She accepts happily, but she isn’t surprised – this engagement had always been part of her plan. 

    On the day of William and Julia’s wedding, Sylvie finds Cecelia in a quiet mood. Cecelia asks Sylvie if she can tell her a secret – and she reveals that she’s pregnant.

    When Cecelia then tells her parents, Rose is furious. She makes it clear Cecelia is not welcome in the family home anymore, and Cecelia moves in with a neighbor. Julia, who has been on her honeymoon, is the last to find out. She, too, feels aggrieved. This was not part of her plan – she was supposed to have a baby first. But the sisters all pull together around Cecelia, and when she goes into labor, at only 17 years old, it is Julia she asks for in the delivery room. Defying his wife’s wishes, Charlie Padovano comes to visit Cecelia and her new baby girl, Izzy, in hospital. He is smitten. As he leaves the room and walks down the hospital corridor, his heart gives out – and he collapses and dies.

    ANALYSIS

    The author of Hello Beautiful, Ann Napolitano, has said that her inspiration for the Padovano girls is another set of famous literary siblings, the March sisters from Louisa May Alcott’s classic nineteenth-century novel Little Women. Readers familiar with the source text will easily be able to map the Padovanos onto the Marches: determined, pragmatic Julia is similar to Meg; romantic bookworm Sylvie takes after Jo; gentle Emeline is like Beth; and volatile, artistic Cecelia is close in personality to Amy. Charlie Padovano is devoted to the writing of American transcendentalist thinker and poet Walt Whitman. When he meets his newborn granddaughter Izzy in hospital, he quotes Whitman: “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” This is perhaps a nod to Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, who was himself part of the transcendentalist movement and, like Charlie, reputedly dreamy, impractical, and unreliable.

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    What is Hello Beautiful about?

    Hello Beautiful (2023) is a tale of love, family, and sisterhood. It centers on William Waters, who meets and marries the ambitious, practical Julia Padovano while they are both still in college. Julia is one of four girls in a close knit Italian-American family, whose storybook lives at first seem like a fantasy to William. But soon enough, life’s many obstacles catch up with the Padovanos, and William is drawn deep into their lives, loves, conflicts, and griefs. 

    Who should read Hello Beautiful?

    • Readers who love sprawling family epics
    • Lovers of Little Women, the classic story of sisterhood that inspired Hello Beautiful
    • Anyone who wants the scoop on one of 2023’s best-selling novels

    About the Author

    Ann Napolitano is the author of four novels, including Dear Edward and Within Arm’s Reach. She has edited the literary magazine One Story and taught fiction in Brooklyn College’s MFA program. 

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