From early on, William has done everything he can do to make himself small. After tragedy befell his family shortly after his birth, his parents could barely hold on and he did what he could to make himself disappear. The only outlet he found to appease his loneliness was basketball, at which he found himself excelling. Meanwhile, Julia, nicknamed aptly by her father as the “rocket,” was a force to be reckoned with. She was the problem-solver, the arranger, the one in charge. She always had a plan, for herself and for anyone else in her tightly-knit family. Once her world collided with William’s, their lives would be changed forever – and in ways even Julia could never have predicted.
This is a powerful story about family – about how family can crush us, surround us, desert us and engulf us. Napolitano’s portrait of these two families (William’s and Julia’s) highlight family relationships at extremes. William’s parents emotionally abandon him at infancy, whereas Julia’s family is pathologically enmeshed such they have few relationships outside their nuclear family. While at first this seems to connect the two of them, perhaps fill a need for each of them, it may also create a blindness to what the other may be feeling, how it may impact each of them psychologically. They are both naive to the fact that our families are inside us, no matter how mightily we may try to rebel against it.
The writing in Hello Beautiful is interesting. While many authors will direct the readers in how to feel, in so many words, Napolitano seems to elicit our emotions by just telling the story outright, giving us a chance to form our own opinions, to have our own reactions. We are privy to the inner thoughts of each of the main characters- their frustrations, their demons – but we are also given the facts of their lives, the skeleton of their days in order to see the whole picture. It is not devoid of emotion – on the contrary – but what we feel in reaction to it is very much our own. What we feel is because we have formed genuine attachment to the characters and their fortunes and misfortunes. It is a unique and effective style of narrative.
I am still living with these characters – I feel that I will be living with them for quite awhile. I love when that happens.