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Insightful,
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Beautiful

9 reviews

The Story of Beautiful Girl
by Rachel Simon

Published: 2012-02-13
Paperback : 368 pages
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17 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 9 of 9 members
It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the...
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Introduction

It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: "Hide her." And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia-lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.

Editorial Review

It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: "Hide her." And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia-lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.

Exclusive Essay from Rachel Simon
Rachel Simon

When The Story of Beautiful Girl came out, I kept getting asked two questions. Why was I drawn to writing disability-themed literature? And was it hard to write from the point of view of characters with disabilities?

My answer to the first question begins with this basic fact: for one month every year, I am a twin.

My sister Beth, who has an intellectual disability, was born eleven months after me. So every year when I visit her for her birthday, the first thing we both say is, "Now weâ??re twins!" And for the next thirty days, as she gleefully moves through her days wearing the Tweety Bird shirts and using the Scooby Doo stickers I bought for her big celebration, we are indeed twins. Then my birthday rolls around, and when I visit her for that admittedly more secondary occasion, and she thrusts dozens of handmade cards at me, all of which express her happiness at my coming to see her, the first thing we both say is, "Now weâ??re not twins."

As with any siblings who are so close in age, weâ??ve shared a lot: parents, a brother and sister, a challenging family history, bedrooms, opinions, dreams, tears, jokes, anxieties, secrets, unspoken understandings, and sideways glances. So I have a reasonably good sense of how my sister feels, what she thinks, who she cares about, and why she does what she does.

Of course, there are additional layers to our relationship because of her disability. I feel a sense of responsibility toward her and she feels a level of trust in me. Weâ??ve both always known that, whenever necessary, I will act as a go-between: I will explain to her the things she doesnâ??t understand about the world, and I will explain to the world the things it doesnâ??t understand about her.

At the same time, since she is a person with a disability, Iâ??ve spent my life noticing--and being annoyed at--how so much of the world has got it all wrong when it comes to my sister and others like her. How she gets ignored by waitresses, snickered at by teenagers, patronized by people who assume sheâ??s helpless, underestimated by people who assume sheâ??s angelic. In addition, Iâ??ve pondered many of the deepest issues about the mind. What is universal about intelligence? About sorrow and longing? About pleasure and love? On top of all this, Iâ??ve long wondered: Why does so much of the public just not get it? And how, given that some people like my sister never get seen or acknowledged or heard by the world, might that ever change?

In 2002, I tried to do what I could to answer those thoughts. I wrote a memoir about my relationship with Beth, Riding The Bus With My Sister, which is about both her present-day passion of riding city buses and our lives as siblings from birth to middle age. The book, which was also adapted for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie by the same name, led to my getting asked to give talks around the country. At every talk, I met more and more people with disabilities, their family members, and the professionals who work with them. They told me their stories, and I started to feel a new urge. I wanted to do whatever I could to give voice to those who had never been heard.

I realized I was in an unusual position to take on that responsibility. As a family member, I wouldnâ??t get bogged down by cliches and stereotypes. As someone whoâ??d already published two books of fiction before Riding The Bus With My Sister, I wouldnâ??t have to stick with nonfiction, nor was I daunted by the idea of a novel. As a sister whoâ??d stood up for Beth since the day I was conscious of my own existence, I felt a sense of mission. And as a once-a-year twin, I had developed the skill of being a go-between.

This gets me to the second question. Was it hard to write The Story of Beautiful Girl through the eyes of characters with disabilities?

I wish I could say it took a huge amount of effort. But thereâ??s another word thatâ??s synonymous with being a go-between: being a translator. Iâ??ve spent my life translating the world into terms my sister could comprehend--and translating my sister into terms the world could comprehend.

So when I sat down to write the characters of Beautiful Girl and Number Forty-Two, I just did what Iâ??ve always done. I wrote about the worldâ??s rules and injustices and rewards and irrationalities as those characters would perceive them. And I wrote about their wonderings and yearnings and motivations and joys in ways that readers would understand.

Neither character is like my sister. And both go through adversity and anguish the likes of which my sister has never seen. But I wouldnâ??t say that writing their experiences was hard for me.

I would say, instead, that it was heart-opening and soul-deepening.

I would say, instead, that it was fun.

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Member Reviews

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  "The Story of Beautiful Girl"by teachgiftedkids (see profile) 12/14/12

An eye-opening novel about the institutions for the mentally retarded and the terrible conditions that were found in these "schools." The characters are well-developed and the story is amazing. A must... (read more)

 
  "So good!"by Stacie621 (see profile) 10/23/12

A real eye-opener to the way things used to be for those with disabilities.

 
  "I truely enjoyed the characters"by tkruss (see profile) 10/16/12

I could really feel the characters emotions and feelings. I too thought these horrific institutional conditions were very long ago. I am hopeful for the strides we have made in society to accommodate... (read more)

 
  "A good read"by KateKrzyz (see profile) 08/26/12

I am glad to have read this, but was a bit disappointed in the end. The book certainly opened my eyes to how recent these institutions existed. I had thought they were much more in the past.

 
  "Well written"by Katrese24 (see profile) 04/23/12

I was wowed by this book! So impressed by the depth of this author's ability. The book is written from different points of view, including a low-functioning woman and a minimally educated d... (read more)

 
  "The Story of Beautiful Girl"by tac48 (see profile) 04/16/12

A gentle read. I can imagine something like this almost happening. A good behind the scenes look at institutions. Well written, although one needs to suspend belief in areas. I liked the characters... (read more)

 
  "At its core, a love story"by mmalloy (see profile) 03/04/12

The main characters are alternately highlighted in the chapters, helping the story to unfold in an interesting and captivating manner. Simon does a great job of enlightening the reader to the horrible... (read more)

 
  "The Story of Beautiful Girl"by Bverno (see profile) 03/03/12

As a special education teacher, I had read about Willowbrook and Pennhurst Institutions. This book told the story without being too graphic. I liked the characters, but did think the ending was somewhat... (read more)

 
  "Beautiful Girl...."by LisaMarieM (see profile) 02/21/12

The book started off great...very well written. I enjoyed it. The book ended very strange and left questions. Overall a good read, not great.

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