The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon: Review
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
On a dark and stormy night in 1968, a widow is alone at home, as she usually is. She hears a knock on her door. She isn't expecting anyone, but, these being simpler times in many ways, she answers anyway. A young black man and white woman are outside, drenched, in obvious need of help. It soon becomes apparent that the man is deaf and the woman has some sort of developmental disability. There's also a newborn girl hidden under the woman's sodden clothes. White, the girl is obviously not the black man's daughter.
Martha, the widow, sets about making the man, woman, and infant comfortable. Then there's a second knock at the door. Police. They're looking for the couple, "escapees" from the local "school for the feebleminded." They quickly find Lynnie, the woman, but the baby is hidden away and they don't seem to know about her. The man, "Buddy," makes his escape out the back door. Lynnie, who hasn't uttered a word up to this point, whispers one request into Martha's ear as the authorities drag her away: "Hide. Her." Meaning the baby. In a life-altering decision, Martha does exactly that.
Oh my gosh, this was so heart-breaking to listen to. Seriously. My heart just ached through some of the descriptions. It's just so hard to imagine the conditions that citizens with different abilities were subjected to, and not that long ago. Families were ashamed of their children and locked them away, out of sight, never to visit again. The families who felt differently were often pressured into sending their children to these "schools," where a good front was assumed on visiting days.
The book follows Lynnie's story after she is sent back to the school. One toothbrush to share, bullies as "caretakers," violence, menial work, and absolutely no learning. It's even said about the "students" at the school, "They're not even human. It's not like they can feel." (Paraphrased) I can't imagine. But Lynnie has hope. She knows her daughter is out there somewhere, growing, free of the school. She has faith that her lover, whom she calls Buddy, will come for her someday. And in her innocence, she holds onto her faith for decades. I loved her. She comes so unimaginably far in her own story arc. I was so proud of this fictional character!
Buddy's real name is Homan, and he's had a hard life. He lost his hearing in a childhood fever and he's also illiterate. He learned a form of sign language, but so few people know it at this point that he's effectively left without any way to communicate. He's inventive, caring, and intelligent, but he's locked away with people with developmental disabilities because of his deafness. Even after he escapes, he loses his way. He's understandably angry at the world. I sometimes got frustrated with him, but I understood where he was coming from. Most heartbreaking of all? His character is based on a real person who lived his whole life in a "school" like Lynnie's and died in one.
Martha and the baby go off on their own odyssey. Martha is childless, not through any choice of her own, and the baby fills a void in her life that she wasn't fully aware of. They set out on a life on the run. Martha knows that if authorities ever find out who this child's mother is that she will be locked away in a "school" as well. Martha refuses to let that happen.
For all the heartbreak, I was left with tears of absolute joy in my eyes at the end. It's a good thing that I finished as I pulled into the garage because I don't know what kind of state I would have been in for driving. I felt like these characters made my heart grow a few sizes.
I had to listen to the author's notes at the end (a sign of how much I love a book), and it turns out that her sister was born with a developmental disability. The love in this story is obviously the real love the author has for her sister. I could well up again just thinking about it.
Speaking of the ending, I do wish there had been just a little more resolution. It's tied up, I just wanted a little more of the happy times after all of the bad.
Kate Reading is the narrator. I haven't listened to any of her work before, but she is fantastic. I will be searching her out in the future.
If you are in the mood to get through some heartbreak and come out on the other side a better person, pick this book up in any format you like. I highly, highly recommend it.
Buy The Story of Beautiful Girl at
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