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Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt – 354 pages

ARC from Algonquin Publishing

Book Blurb:

It’s 1969, and sixteen-year-old Lucy is about to run away with a much older man to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that will have vicious repercussions for both her and her older sister, Charlotte. As Lucy’s default caretaker for most of their lives, Charlotte’s youth has been marked by the burden of responsibility, but never more so than when Lucy’s dream of a rural paradise turns into nightmare.

My Review: 4 stars

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Cruel Beautiful World is an introspective look at two sisters and the power of that relationship as well as many others that are influential to their lives. This book begins in 1969 and there are numerous references to the time period: communes, free love, Vietnam, anti-war protests, the Black Panthers and the Manson murders. These are important backdrops to the story but not part of the story. From reading blurbs about this book, I was certain this book was going to be about girls involved in the Manson murders and for that reason, wasn’t sure I’d read it. Boy was I WRONG.

This book is a perfect piece of work if looking for a character driven novel. Each character is neatly fleshed out and both major and minor characters are influential to the story. This book tests the strength of relationships between man and woman, sisters, as well as parent and child. Descriptions of clothing, music and cars brought me right back to the 70s.

As a coming of age book at its heart, we learn that life lessons can sometimes come at hard prices and what we plan doesn’t always work in our favor. It’s how we deal with those moments of the unknown that shows our character.

This book was realistic fiction in that there were no neatly wrapped bows or canned moments in the plot line or the ending. Everything seemed plausible and probable. It’s also one that stays with you for a while, thinking about the two sisters and their outcomes. Another strong and emotional book that I also enjoyed about sisters is The Moon Sisters.

Quotes I liked:

Sometimes you couldn’t fix things, you couldn’t make them better, and you had to live with that. It didn’t make you a bad person, the way she had thought. It made you human.”

-“Falling in love with children was different from giving your heart to an adult. Oh, it was so much better! Loving the girls brought her deep peace, something she could sink into like a blanket.”

-“Why do you always have to think about the worst things?”
“Because the worst things happen all the time.”

One Response to Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

    Eileen MacDougall November 7, 2016 at 4:36 pm #

    Hi Lauren – I just finished this book too, and wouldn’t read your review until I did! Here’s mine, from – and I also gave 4 stars: Herein lies both an interesting novel with two distinct points of view – actually five, as other major characters also have their say when they unwind their own stories. Young sisters Lucy and Charlotte lose both parents and are taken in by Iris, a widow who, unbeknownst to them, is their half sister. Lucy, as many teenage girls do, falls in love with one of her teachers, William – but unlike 99% of us, they run away together. With the fear of prison for William, Lucy is kept isolated in a rural farmhouse and begins to regret her decision. She is platonically befriended by Patrick, a widower who senses that something’s wrong but fails to act. Enter Charlotte, studious and serious, who is finally summoned to Lucy’s rescue, but arrives too late to prevent tragedy. The voice switches abruptly from Lucy’s to Charlotte’s, and the remaining words belong to her, William, Iris, and Patrick, all seeking to minimize their pain with no expectations of happiness. A likable book – not revelatory but somehow really thoughtful.