Arden Reviews: Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

img_0341BookCruel Beautiful World

Author: Caroline Leavitt

Genre: Fiction, Literary

Basic Description: It’s 1969, and sixteen-year-old Lucy is about to run away 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 a nightmare.

Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty, and explores what happens when you’re responsible for things you cannot fix.

Arden’s Thoughts: Youth is wasted on the young. Cliché though it sounds, 16-year-old Lucy embodies this statement. She yearns to be understood and loved, while neglecting to see the love surrounding her when she runs away with her English teacher. All the while, Lucy’s disappearance slowly, yet steadily, drives life into her sister and her caretaker.

Sixteen-year-olds don’t have the brain development to understand the impact their decisions make on those around them, or the rest of their lives. Our frontal lobes, that critical decision-making, personality-showing, portion of our brains doesn’t fully develop until we’re in at least our mid-20s. For some, maybe longer. (Google it for kicks and giggles.)

But, something about the turbulence of the early 70s makes us cheer for Lucy, and her family, to beat the odds of poor decision-making. As we read the beautifully written story Leavitt weaves for us, we hope Lucy wins. We hope she finds a way out of her nightmare and into a life full of happiness and peace.

We hope her sister Charlotte lets go of feeling so responsible for a free-spirited sister and lets herself live a full life of love and prosperity.

And we hope their caretaker just lives.

I found myself almost breathless as I cheered for these women; yearning for them to win. The beauty of this story is its characters and the rawness of each. No one is fully good. None fully bad. They’re us. And aren’t we all trying our best in this Cruel Beautiful World?

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