Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As young girls, Lucy and Caroline come into the care of the older Iris. The girls' parents had died, and they wind up living with Iris, who becomes a sort of adopted mother to the two sisters. Both Lucy and Charlotte are extremely close until high school, when they find themselves drifting apart. Studious Charlotte is focused on getting into college, where she hopes to study to become a vet. Lucy, however, can never quite seem to live up to her sister's academic shadow. That is until she meets a vibrant teacher, William, at her high school. Lucy falls fast for her older English teacher and suddenly finds herself running away to a remote area of Pennsylvania to start over with her new love. Iris and Charlotte, however, are devastated, and cannot give up their search for Lucy. Even worse, Lucy's life of promise and happiness with William may be falling short.
This book is not what I expected, but it was a wonderful (although sometimes haunting) tale. Leavitt creates nuanced, well-developed characters who jump off the page. The book has a poignant sadness that stays with you, even after you've turned the last page. Somehow, I inadvertently read this one directly after The Girls, with each tale being set in a similar timeframe, with mentions and allusions to the Manson murders, free love, etc. I actually preferred this novel and its intricate plot and characters, to whom I found myself growing quite attached. The story unfolds from the point of view of Lucy, Charlotte, and Iris, which allows us to get to know each of them. Each is different and beautiful in their own way.
Overall, I loved most of this book. It slowed for me about 3/4 through, but recovered by the end. Some of the characters' actions are frustrating, but it does not take away from its almost poetic nature. Definitely recommend.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and LibraryThing (thank you!).
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