It’s All About the Acknowledgments: Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

It’s one of my favorite places in a book — the acknowledgments.

You learn a lot about an author by whom he or she thanks. And in “Hello Beautiful,” Ann Napolitano already has me at “Hello” by first acknowledging her writing friends Helen Ellis and Hannah Tinti. Because I adore Helen Ellis. And Hannah Tinti is, unfairly, still in my TBR pile. But she’s there. Waiting.

Then she takes it a step further by giving Draymond Green a shoutout. Hashtag Spartan Strong!

I don’t do what Billy Crystal’s Harry Burns does in “When Harry Met Sally” — read the first page of a book then flip to the end. But I do enjoy reading the author’s notes ahead of reading a book because it sometimes provides a certain subconscious level of context that maybe even the author isn’t necessarily aware of — or the reader — until the story is over.

And in this case, with the Sisters Padavano, “Hello Beautiful” really is about acknowledgment, or lack thereof, in the case of Julia Padavano’s husband, William Waters. William enters Julia’s world and by extension, her family, having spent his entire life as a ghost in his own home, Barely noticed by his grieving parents, William has no context by which to understand familial love. So to arrive on the campus of Northwestern University on a basketball scholarship, known by nearly no one and uncomfortable in his own skin, it was easy to fall into Julia’s world, and by extension, her world view of how life should be.

Julia, the oldest of the four sisters, also struggles with the concept — to acknowledge her past or question her destiny is a dangerous proposition. It could mean addressing feelings of failure. It could mean losing her daughter. It could mean having to forgive those that she loves the most.

Sylvie, Julia’s closest sister, has to wrestle with acknowledging feelings that she knows aren’t right. Love is love. But what if it comes at the expense of her closest blood tie? Is what she’ll gain worth what she’ll lose?

And twins Cecelia and Emeline each have to acknowledge their place within the family construct — as each takes turns bearing down the disappointment of their mother, Rose, for taking life paths she wanted them to avoid.

There’s so much more than just the Padavano sisters to deconstruct within the pages of “Hello Beautiful” — not just the familial relationships but the friendships over time as well, especially that of Kent and William. Friends really are the family you choose, aren’t they?

Napolitano has crafted an engrossing tale of acknowledgment that spans decades and generations, both loving and painful, and always realistic. This is fantastic fodder for book clubs — people will have a heyday debating Julia’s actions, as well as Sylvie’s. Oprah knows how to pick ’em.

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