book review | cruel beautiful world

“The girl was like an ellipsis, a sentence with something left out.”

This was my first book by Caroline Leavitt. Prior to picking Cruel Beautiful World up, I had been in a bit of a reading rut, which is pretty unusual for me. I started it the day I bought it at the bookstore and then, let it sit for nearly two weeks without turning another page. I won’t lie to you, the first chapter or so, I was not that interested. It seemed a bit like every other story set in the 1970’s; absentee parent, runaway young girl, sibling loyalty and rivalry, love, etc.

Leavitt, however, does a fabulous job of giving the present story context, such as the truth behind Lucy’s and Charlotte’s parentage, as well as insight into the minds of Iris and Charlotte as they desperately wonder where Lucy has disappeared to, yet also try to go on with their lives. The changing perspectives throughout the book kept me engaged and interested, as I tried to weave together how everyone and everything was connected to the primary story line, which is, of course, 16 year-old Lucy’s running away with her teacher, William, who is 30 years-old.

Although this honestly wasn’t one of the best books I’ve ever read, I did thoroughly enjoy it. I really liked both Iris’s and Patrick’s story lines, as the insight into their respective worlds was unexpected yet much appreciated. It added another layer of understanding and their life experiences added another dimension to the story that was ripe with childish thoughts and desires from Lucy’s perspective. I also enjoyed the dichotomy between Lucy and Charlotte, as well as the realistic portrait of a sister-sister relationship. The responsibility, anger, guilt and agony that Charlotte feels throughout the novel, as she attempts to balance her new college life and taking care of Iris, felt extremely realistic and will definitely resonate with readers, particularly those who have a sister in their lives.

overall rating: 3.2 out of 5

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