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.
...a seductive page-turner that ripples with an undercurrent of suspense and is fueled by the foibles of the human heart ... Leavitt traces the loneliness, isolation, and forced dependence of Lucy’s circumstances as William, who gradually sours on the new school, becomes more and more controlling ... Though the novel unspools with the edge of a psychological thriller, read too quickly for plot and one might miss these nuanced moments of insight, which seed Leavitt’s prose like tips of crocuses pushing up through snow. Best to slow down and savor.
Leavitt paints her characters with deep flaws and yet hugely redeeming qualities. The writing is rich and real and provocative, with scenes that bring tears of sadness and of joy as we watch America struggle with its growing pains and wonder if our young protagonist will make it through her own.
...there are twisty and compelling touches, but the dark reality here is that William is a sexual predator who essentially kidnaps a girl and holds her in seclusion ... the news has been full of stories about children who have been raped, even murdered, and at first I wrote off my aversion to Cruel Beautiful World as a timing issue. But the rest of the novel — with its reams of psych-speak dialogue and Leavitt’s repositioning of William as a victim suddenly worthy of pity — seemed mawkish.