top of page

October Indie Next Pick

BlogCritics. One of the Best Books of the Year

The Pulpwood Queens Book of the Year

Parade Magazine, The Best Books to Read on Fall Vacation

Lit Hub: Five Books Making News this Week
Book Club Selection for Reading With Robin
Book Club Selection for The Pulpwood Queens

Book Club Selection for Booksparks

10 Books You Should Read in October. Jane Ciabattari,
The Best Fall Books. InsideChic, Culture Page
Audiofile Earphones Award for Xe Sands reading the Cruel Beautiful World audiobook
Book Riot: One of the 100 Best Books about Starting over
Weekend Edition NPR interview with Scott Simon


A nuanced portrait of love, sisters and the impossible legacy of family. 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 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 make right.


"Nuanced and engrossing." People Magazine

"A seductive page-turner that ripples with an undercurrent of suspense and is fueled by the foibles of the human heart."
The Boston Globe, Karen Campbell

"Marvelous..captivating timely thriller."  The Los Angeles Times

"Warm, engaging...and unsettling." The Miami Herald

"Leavitt excels at the nuanced relationships..and the shifting loves and loyalties..layers of complexity and vulnerability."
The San Francisco Chronicle, S. Kirk Walsh

"Races through several breathtaking leaps and turns involving the truth. Leavitt's novel has the tone of a family chronicle: her readers will expect to immerse themselves in her characters' domestic snarls and scandals--grief, love, redemption, everything goes into a popular zesty page-tuner."

The New York Times Book Review

"A moving story about love and what family will do for each other."  Betty Lytle, The Oklahoman

 "A breathtaking novel about the lengths people will go to to discover and recover love."

The Washington Independent Review of Books

"A moving novel about three women connected by fate and a spate of tragic deaths. Leavitt expertly draws us into the lives of her stormy characters  and deftly narrates their coming of age in a world in which women's roles are changing. As Emma Cline did in "The Girls", Leavitt draws on the mystifying mindset of the girls who blindly followed Manson. She conveys a clear-eyed understanding of Lucy's subjugation to William and his ability to control her. And she perfectly executes Lucy's Lolita-like story, injecting it with a kind of claustrophobic atmosphere reminiscent of Emma Donoghue's "Room."  
The Washington Post, Carole Memmott

"Leavitt brings to life the chaotic days of Viet Nam protests and the Manson murders as the setting for a complex story of the relationship between two sisters and a predatory teacher. The result is a captivating, timely-feeling thriller."

Elizabeth Taylor,  5 Hot Books, The National Book Review

"Leavitt's 11th novel will keep you captivated." Real Simple, The Best Ten Books to Read this Month

"A model of restraint and matter-of-fact horror. A willingness to confront ambiguity..  so bold." Publisher's Weekly

"A devastating picture of how love hits its exploration of how love can impel one to terrible depths and lofty heights. A devastating portrayal of how at any age, we alone are responsible for how we let our love for the people in our live affect us. Too few books truly challenge our own hearts, no matter how hard they may aim for it; Cruel Beautiful World hits its target."  Wendeline O. Wright, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Bestsellers to Buy Now." Publishers Weekly

"Gripping, masterful and suspenseful."  Bookpage, Carla Jean Whitley

"We seek to know each other's hearts, but we never can. The Victory in the novel is that, possible like the author, Charlotte comes to accept, appreciate and celebrate what she has." Salisbury Post

"Beautiful and riveting novel set against a backdrop of peace, love, the Manson murders, and anti-war protests on college campuses the novel is a reflection on an era: exuberant, defiant, and precarious, all at once." Valley Morning Star

"Leavitt builds her story around characters who are warm and engaging but very much flawed. The 1960s' setting provides a few unsettling details that murmur in the background--the Manson murders, the Kent State Shootings--but this is essentially the timeless story of a family that's unorthodox and fractured, but rings emotionally true."

Tampa Bay Times

"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. This is the 11th novel for Leavitt, author of the 2011 bestseller “Pictures of You,” and her literary momentum shows no signs of slowing."

Ginny Greene, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Cruel Beautiful World is about America in 1969, a time in which the nation was forced to come to terms with the dark impulses lurking beneath its apparent innocence. With the Vietnam War and the Manson Family looming as sinister signposts, Leavitt gives us these two sisters, Lucy and Charlotte, as proxies for what America had and might become. But she gives us much more than the political and sociological. This is a compelling, deeply felt novel that ends far from where it began, one that showcases the elegance of Leavitt’s prose, the propulsive force of her narrative, and most of all her deft, soulful chronicling of the human spirit."  

The Nervous Breakdown, Kurt Baumeister

"Leavitt is onto something here--the vulnerability of young girls, sexually advanced perhaps, but naive when it comes to human nature. The novel reminds us, too, of our own peril. Oh, how thin the line between good fortune and tragedy; how tenuous our hold  on a safe haven from life's tragedies. Leavitt's descriptive writing and insights into human frailty stand out.  She knows how to pull a reader onto the page."  

Elfrieda Abbe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

BookBrowse members who've been reading this for First Impressions love, love, love this book. Expect her to reach "overnight sensation" with Cruel Beautiful World."
BookBrowse: Ten of the most anticipated Fall titles


"Riveting tale that will raise your own heartbeat, too."

Steph Opitz, Marie Claire 

"Thrums with tension...a page-turner."

Marion Winik, New York Newsday

"A mesmerizing story about love, family, and obsession."
Pop Sugar, one of 23 books you must read this Fall, Brenda Janowitz​​

"Cruel Beautiful World hits the sweet-spot between popular and literary fiction with finely honed writing, complexity of character motives, and enough guilt and secrecy to sustain the page-turning suspense."

Carol Brill, New York Journal of Books

"Set in the same tumultuous period as Woodstock and the Manson family murders, Caroline Leavitt's astute family drama in Cruel Beautiful World is as vintage as a pair of bell-bottoms and as timeless as the bond between sisters."


Leavitt (Is This Tomorrow) perfectly captures the essence of the teen years adults tend to look back on fondly through the lens of nostalgia, reminding the reader of the uncertainty, insecurity, naive expectations and broken dreams that came with growing up. Through Iris, she also holds up the agony of aging and becoming the person your children must protect, losing the ability to protect them as you do so. However, hope never fully falls by the wayside; Leavitt portrays the uneven phases of happiness and unhappiness humans pass through in their lives. The message that we cannot plan the course of the future mingles with the reassurance that we can put ourselves back together and move forward after enormous loss. Deeply resonant and quietly powerful, Cruel Beautiful World has the heart-pounding moments of a thriller and the heart-warming moments of a perfect coming-of-age story."

Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads


Shelf Talker: In her 11th novel, Caroline Leavitt weaves an absorbing story of family, love and tragedy set at the dawn of the 1970s.

Shelf Awareness

"In very definite clear ways, Cruel Beautiful World is Nabokov rewriting Theodore Dreiser with a screenplay by Igmar Bergman."  

Hubert O'Hearn, By the Book Reviews

This haunting examination of the duty we have to family—and the irreparable consequences we abandon it—."

Working Mother

"Caroline’s signature style ..pulls apart everyday lives and finds the deeper stories in them by getting into her characters' hearts and heads."
Bookreporter, Carol Fitzgerald

"Devastating. Flawed by fascinating characters. Leavitt intricately weaves a spiderweb of consequences that drives these "so human you can almost touch them" people unique and emotionally resonate places. Leavitt takes us on a powerful and moving characters find out that obsessive devotion to any one person or thing comes with its own warnings. Cruel Beautiful World is a masterwork, a book that is  well-crafted and emotionally resonant. Congratulations to Caroline for an upstanding and inspiring literary masterpiece."

Jane Sicilliano, Bookreporter

“Cruel Beautiful World is a masterful family drama about sisterhood, love, and the dangers of entering the adult world. Lucy is sure that she and her high school teacher are in love. She agrees to run away with William to a rural paradise where they can be together safely until she turns 18. Lucy, however, gets more than she bargained for when her life turns into one of isolation and deprivation. Her sister, Charlotte, never gives up hope that Lucy will return. Their shocking reunion will leave readers riveted to the page and these characters will haunt readers long after the book is finished.”

Indie Next Pick, Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, MN


"Leavitt's most accomplished book yet, Cruel Beautiful World, is a seamless triumph of storytelling." 

Gail Godwin, author of Flora

"Backdropped by the Vietnam War and the Manson Murders, Cruel Beautiful World is a fast moving page-turner about the naiveté of youth and the malignity of power. Leavitt explores with a keen eye the intersection of love, family, and the anxiety of an era."

Lily King, author of Euphoria

"With Cruel Beautiful World, Caroline Leavitt has done the seemingly impossible: she's written a gorgeous, seductive novel that is also terrifying and pulse-pounding. This is the kind of coming-of-age novel for which readers yearn: we witness the emotional and spiritual evolution a sixteen-year-old girl while American society, in the early 1970s, seems to devolve all around her. Like the era it represents, Cruel, Beautiful World is at times hopeful and nihilistic, beautiful and savage, mesmerizing and dangerous." 

Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy 

"Tender and tragic, with a shooting star of hope, Leavitt's profound latest is about the connections of siblings, the mystery of love--first, last and dangerous--and the struggle to accept what can never be changed."

Sara Gruen, author of At Water's Edge

"At once a page-turner that leaves you holding your breath, and a gorgeous meditation on love and family. Cruel Beautiful World had me in its thrall from start to finish."

J. Courtney Sullivan, author of The Engagements

"Breathtaking. . . Leavitt has spun a masterful web of seduction and loyalty, infatuation and love. . . It is hard to read this novel and not think of Lolita and of Dan Chaon's psychological thriller, Await Your Reply. . . poignant and complex.  "

Mary Morris, author of The Jazz Palace 

"A stunning novel about life, real life, the sort in which mistakes can bring unfair consequences and family loyalty is a source of tremendous grace. Leavitt is a magician at creating unforgettable characters, and the two sisters at the heart of this tale will stay with me in all their complicated humanity. A brave book, and a powerfully moving one."

Robin Black, author of Life Drawing

"Fierce and tender at once, Cruel Beautiful World flames with the sweetness of new love, smolders with bitter regret, and burns with all the mistakes in between. . . a wonder of triumph and tragedy."

 Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet and June

 "Two sisters -- impulsive Lucy and sensible Charlotte --make decisions that will haunt the rest of their lives. Set in the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s, CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD is a riveting, fluid and compelling novel about love and loss, secrets and lies, and what it means to be a family. Its twists and turns will keep you reading late into the night."

 Christina Baker Kline, Number 1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

"Churning suspenset, This is a compelling exploration of love and loyalty, which could have been made perfect with a shade more Vietnam-era context.

Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA -Library Journal


"Reminiscent of Dan Chaon, Tayari Jones and Carol Rifka Brunt's Tell the Wolves I'm Home."


“Caroline Leavitt weaves a beautiful narrative of being young -- and old -- in a novel that is truly timeless. Cruel Beautiful World is set in the volatile times of Kent State and the Manson family, but Leavitt's skill is in telling the story through characters as unique as they are unforgettable. Sixteen-year-old, free-spirited Lucy runs away with her English teacher to start their lives together, and over time figures out that love isn't the dream world she'd expected. Her overachieving older sister Charlotte has her life all planned out, but after Lucy's disappearance she has to learn to live with uncertainty and her own imperfection. Iris, the sisters' elderly guardian, unexpectedly finds herself with an empty nest, but starts to discover that maybe life isn't over just yet. You will love these characters, you will relate to these characters, and your heart will break wanting to protect these characters from pain. Don't be surprised to see this on just about every ‘Best of 2016’ list at the end of the year.”

Maureen Stinger, Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA

"Her real fascination is with sifting inner landscapes, tracking the suffering and fulfillment of her ensemble. A sympathetic tale..a readable, empathetic novel. 

Kirkus Reviews

bottom of page