Cover Image: Cruel Beautiful World

Cruel Beautiful World

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Member Reviews

I enjoyed this book.  Would I use it in a curriculum or my school?  No, I don't think so.  I think it would be a little too mature for my students.
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After reading a few chapters, I decided this book held no interest for me at this time nor was it a good fit for my blog.  I elected not to finish the book now, but it may well be a case of "the wrong book at the wrong time" syndrome and I might be willing to try it again in the future.  Thank you to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to sample this title.
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The book has an easy flow to it, but make no mistake, there are heavy life themes intertwined within this story. The chapters alternate by family members. I enjoyed how the author has us first meet a character, and then provides the details of their past life. She beautifully depicts that as humans we make errors in judgement. Life and the people you love aren’t perfect, it can get messy.
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I'm sorry I have not shared my views sooner. It is great read with unforgettable characters. Caroline Leavitt is a gifted writer.
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Beautifully written and makes you aware that decisions taken, whether lightly or deliberately, can have a massive effect on you and those around you.
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The "cruel" part of the title is apparent throughout this story. There is so much sadness in this book- loss and disappointment and despair- that it's generally hard to walk away from this story believing there is anything good. Despite all this, this story is about how we have to keep going on after each tragedy, and how there is always something unexpected coming. A great pick for book clubs as the combination of historical fiction with literary fiction will hit all the right notes.
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Cruel Beautiful World is interesting and sad. Two young girls are sent to live with a stranger when their parents die, but they all have secrets, some with larger consequences than others.
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This is a painful, heartbreaking story about expectations, disappointments, love and secrets. When Lucy leaves her already fragmented family to run away with William, her 30-year-old high school English teacher, she has no idea how isolated her life will become. (Time out a second - What is it with students and their high school teachers? I loved mine, but I never wanted to run away with them. I know they were nuns, but still.) While the story is primarily Lucy's, Leavitt gives vibrant life to each of her characters, who face their own demons and regrets with grace and dignity.

As usual, Leavitt delivers a beautifully written story, moving in its courage, raw emotion, and unflinching hope. William's selfishness and immaturity made me wonder why Lucy, a young, beautiful girl, would stay with him. Then I listened to this NPR interview that someone kindly posted on Goodreads, and I understood it a little better. This is not an easy story to read, but it is moving and thought provoking, and it is worth the effort you will have to put into seeing it through its final pages. Not because it is hard to read, but instead, because Leavitt has created a world so real that you will worry about these people until the very end, and then, maybe even a little bit longer.

For Goodreads:

Why I picked it — because I've read a couple of Leavitt's other books
Reminded me of… though the topic has been broached before, nothing comes to mind
For my full review — click here
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Cruel Beautiful World hit me in a way only few books can.
The story, even though is fictional, became personal to me.
Reading this book, written in the most beautiful way, became hard for me.
I already know that writing this review will be even harder.

Cruel Beautiful World talks about three sisters, Lucy and Charlotte, adopted by their aunt much older sister Iris.
Set in late 1960s and early 1970s, the story briefly talks about Mason girls and perfectly describes the atmosphere and fear that was present in that time.

Lucy is 16 years old girl who falls in love for the first time. She thinks no one understands her completely, no one but the man she loves - William, her teacher who encourages her to write, because he believes she could be a famous writer one day.

After some time, William gets a new job, in free school, and Lucy decides to move away with him.
Because she is a minor, she must not tell anyone, not even her sister, where the two of them will be going.
When they settle down in a small house in rural Pennsylvania, William controls Lucy's every move and, because she is often alone in the house (waiting for him to come back) she realizes that the kind of life she chose for herself is not the kind she wants.

Charlotte is Lucy's older sister, who has always been her protector. She is in college, an excellent student, but after Lucy starts missing, she can't concentrate on anything. Her soul can't have rest until she finds her.

Iris thought she would never be a mother, but once the girls come into her life they become her world.
She never told them she is their sister, they think they are her nieces.
After Lucy's disapearance, Iris can't have piece. She lives for the day she'll reunite with Lucy.

Cruel Beautiful World is beautifully written story. Caroline Leavitt really captured the 1970s atmosphere well, but where she did the best job was in describing feelings.

While reading this book, one can not help but feel. Feel love, feel fear, feel sadness, feel anger, and feel the feelings that are hard to explain with words.

Lucy was my favorite character. In fact, she got so under my skin, that she became one of my all time favorite characters.
Maybe that is why I was so concerned about her.

I hated William. I still hate him. There are a lot of personal reasons why I hate him, but it is what it is.
I rarely hate book characters, I even often like villains, but I hate William passionately.
[ I hate him for what he did, and I hate him for how he got away from his acts. (hide spoiler)]

Cruel Beautiful World is beautiful, emotional book with an open ending, that I would highly recommend to literary fiction lovers out there.
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Caroline Leavitt's novel about two sisters following their hearts in the late 1960s/early 1970s really hit home for me this fall: Cruel Beautiful World (Algonquin, digital galley). When high school student Lucy Gold runs off with her English teacher, she has no idea how her impulsive decision will play out for her, her sensible older sister Charlotte, and for elderly Iris, who raised the girls. Leavitt's writing is tender, tough and incisive as she spins a tale of love and loss, loyalty and second chances. It's not always a happy book, but it is a hopeful one. So let's end this year on that note.
from On a Clear Day I Can Read Forever  12.2017
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What a book.  I've always loved Caroline Leavitt, her "Girls In Trouble" was one of my favorites, but this new book is by far her best.  She writes about complicated relationships in all of her books, but this story of two sisters was especially melancholy.

Lucy is seduced by her teacher, she runs away seeking the excitement of a grown up life.  But she finds that the life she has run to is actually much more confining than her life with her sister and their loving guardian.

Charlotte is left behind, trying to follow the rules, trying to pursue her dreams of being a vet and being the remaining "good" child.  She is sick with worry, but also a little angry with Lucy's immaturity and the selfishness of leaving a loving family and not making any contact.

As Lucy begins to grow tired of her solitary life, she branches out, making secret friends, working a secret job, and beginning to realize that the life she left behind may not have been so bad after all.  But her boyfriend is becoming increasingly paranoid, and unhinge - by the time Lucy reaches out to her sister, tragedy strikes.

The story is as much Charlotte's as Lucy's.  The bond between sisters is a weird thing - it's a twisty relationship that thrives in chaos as much as in peace. Everything your sister does has a weird ripple effect on you, even when they aren't near you.

Definitely one of Leavitt's best - and I encourage everyone to read all of her books.
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Author Caroline Leavitt took an event that happened to a high school classmate of hers as a jumping-off point for her incredibly riveting novel “Cruel Beautiful World”. Charlotte and Lucy were just young girls when their parents died tragically and they went to live with a distant older relative Iris.

In reality Iris is their much older half-sister, a fact Iris conceals from the girls. Iris never had children of her own and she grew to love the girls. Set in the late 1960’s, during the time of great social and political upheaval, Leavitt drops the reader into the time of hippies and free love and the frightening Manson murders that gripped the nation.

When Lucy is sixteen, she falls in love with William, the cool teacher at her school. She runs away with William to a dilapidated old farmhouse, where William gets a job teaching at a school that basically has no rules, while Lucy stays hidden at the farmhouse, all alone except for the chickens.

Lucy’s disappearance devastates Iris and Charlotte, who is ready to go off to college. Iris fears that something terrible has happened to Lucy, and the police are of no help as they tell her that so many teenager girls are running off nowadays and that she will probably return.

Charlotte goes off to college, which is much more difficult than she thought. She excelled in high school, but at college, the classes are much harder and she spends all her time studying. She has no real friends and travels home frequently to check on Iris.

Iris is getting on in age and eventually she must face the fact that for her own safety, she has to move out of her home and into an assisted living facility. Leavitt does a beautiful job with the character of Iris, and some of the most compelling parts of the story belong to her.

We see her as a young woman during WWII, who falls in love and marries the man of her dreams, a young soldier. She believes she will finally have the simple, happy life she longs for, but a secret builds a wall between her and her husband.

When Iris is in the assisted living facility, she is unhappy. She mourns the loss of her freedom to choose when to eat and what to eat, and the ability to go where she wants, when she wants. 

Lucy’s life is not turning out the way she had hoped either. William has isolated her, and she isn’t even allowed to let her aunt and sister know that she is alive for fear that William will be arrested.

What Lucy believed to be a romantic life ahead turns into a nightmare. William is gone all day at work, and when he comes home he is unhappy because his teaching job is not what he thought it would be. She is expected to cook dinner, but William insists on a very specific all-natural diet and Lucy doesn’t know how to cook.

One day Lucy takes a walk and ends up at a farm stand. There are lots of people there and she befriends the owner, Patrick, who gives Lucy a job. Lucy is overjoyed at having someplace to go and something to do.

Patrick is kind to her, and he is interested in what she thinks, something William is not. Patrick is hiding out from his past too, a tragic loss that he has not yet overcome. 

Halfway through the book something happens that changes the lives of all the characters. It is a real blow to the reader as well as to all of the characters, something that made me literally gasp out loud.

By that point we are so invested in these characters and their stories, we feel like we know them as real people. Leavitt has written terrific books, “Pictures of You” and “Is This Tomorrow” among them, but “Cruel Beautiful World” is her best book yet. She has taken her writing to an entirely new level, and she has garnered so much deserved praise for this one.
“Cruel Beautiful World” is the simply the best novel I have read in a long time, and if you enjoy a story that you can lost in, this is the one for you. The characters are simply unforgettable and I give it my highest recommendation.
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