STARRED REVIEW
October 04, 2016

An unsettling look at a young girl’s first love

By Caroline Leavitt
Lucy is 16 and in love. There’s nothing but possibility ahead. That is, if she can first break free of a world in which her love is forbidden.
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Lucy is 16 and in love. There’s nothing but possibility ahead. That is, if she can first break free of a world in which her love is forbidden.

You see, Lucy’s boyfriend is her 30-something high school English teacher, William. Lucy never thought she showed much promise until William’s class. Her older sister, Charlotte, is the smart one of the pair. Lucy is—you guessed it—the pretty one.

But William helps Lucy with her writing, and she begins to recognize her own greatness. And his. So when William proposes they flee their lives in Boston and go off the grid, Lucy is all in. In only two years, her love will no longer be scandalous. Surely she can make it that long without Charlotte and their adopted mother, Iris.

The seams of William and Lucy’s stitched-together existence show quickly. Although he’s found another teaching job, William keeps Lucy far from the school to avoid suspicion. She writes at home, but she longs to get her GED so she can find a job. To William, that’s a warning sign. Why isn’t their relationship enough? Can’t she be patient? She can’t risk outing their love and sending him to prison.

Masterful novelist Caroline Leavitt sets Lucy and William’s story in 1969, when the tension of Vietnam and the Charles Manson murders whirl around them. As Lucy follows the Manson case, she views her relationship through a different lens. Is William everything she thought? Or is there someone more sinister beneath his insistence that she stay home and devoted to him? As in her previous bestselling novels (including Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow), Leavitt engages the reader by avoiding simple answers.

Life isn’t straightforward, and the lives of William, Lucy, Charlotte and Iris carry their own secrets and surprises. Gripping and suspenseful, Cruel Beautiful World will leave the reader pondering who, exactly, these people are—and perhaps, how thoroughly we can understand any individual.

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Cruel Beautiful World

Cruel Beautiful World

By Caroline Leavitt
Algonquin
ISBN 9781616203634

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