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Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey Paperback – August 26, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This perceptive, uplifting chronicle shows how much Simon, a creative writing professor at Bryn Mawr College, had to learn from her mentally retarded sister, Beth, about life, love and happiness. Beth lives independently and is in a long-term romantic relationship, but perhaps the most surprising thing about her, certainly to her (mostly) supportive family, is how she spends her days riding buses. Six days a week (the buses don't run on Sundays in her unnamed Pennsylvania city), all day, she cruises around, chatting up her favorite drivers, dispensing advice and holding her ground against those who find her a nuisance. Rachel joined Beth on her rides for a year, a few days every two weeks, in an attempt to mend their distanced relationship and gain some insight into Beth's daily life. She wound up learning a great deal about herself and how narrowly she'd been seeing the world. Beth's community within the transit system is a much stronger network than the one Rachel has in her hectic world, and some of the portraits of drivers and the other people in Beth's life are unforgettable. Rachel juxtaposes this with the story of their childhood, including the dissolution of their parents' marriage and the devastating abandonment by their mother, the effect of which is tied poignantly to the sisters' present relationship. Although she is honest about the frustrations of relating to her stubborn sister, Rachel comes to a new appreciation of her, and it is a pleasure for readers to share in that discovery. Agent, Anne Edelstein. (Aug. 26) Forecast: A blurb from Rosie O'Donnell and an author tour should pique women readers' interest.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-When she received an invitation to her mentally retarded sister's annual Plan of Care review, Simon realized that this was Beth's way of attempting to bring her back into her life. Beth challenged the author to give a year of her life to riding "her" buses with her. Even though Simon didn't know where it would take her, she accepted. During that time, she came to see her sister as a person in her own right with strong feelings about how she wanted to live her life, despite what others thought. Not everyone on the buses, drivers or passengers, liked or even tolerated Beth, and it shamed the author to realize that she sometimes felt the same way about her sibling. As the year passed, Simon came to the realization that "No one can be a good sister all the time. I can only try my best. Just because I am not a saint does not mean that I am a demon." The time together became a year of personal discovery, of acceptance, and of renewed sibling love and closeness. Clear writing and repeated conversations allow readers to hear the voices of both sisters. There is much to mull over, to enjoy, and to savor in this book.
Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reissue edition (August 26, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452284554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452284555
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (177 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #722,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm the author of six books and a nationally-recognized public speaker on diversity and disability. My titles include the bestsellers The Story of Beautiful Girl and Riding The Bus with My Sister, which are frequent selections of book clubs and school reading programs. My work has been adapted for theater, NPR, the Lifetime Channel, and Hallmark Hall of Fame, whose adaptation of Riding The Bus With My Sister starred Rosie O' Donnell and Andie McDowell, and was directed by Anjelica Huston.

My awards include The Secretary Tommy G. Thompson Recognition Award for Contributions to the Field of Disability from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and writing fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, and the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. I'm one of the only authors to have been selected twice for the Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Award.

I live in Wilmington, DE. For more information, please see www.rachelsimon.com.

Customer Reviews

It just made me so happy.
I admire the way Rachel Simon lays out her entire life's relationship with her mentally handicapped sister, Beth, in this book.
Melissa McCauley
The writing style is very personal and full of emotion.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte Vale-Allen VINE VOICE on September 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is, quite simply, a splendid earthbound book. With admirable honesty Rachel Simon details her year spent riding the buses of an unnamed Pennsylvania city with her "mentally challenged" younger sister Beth.
Unsentimental, clear-eyed, and painfully truthful, Simon interweaves scenes from the family's past into the tales of her travels with the self-named Cool Beth. We meet a series of quite remarkable drivers, some of whom display levels of wisdom and kindness that are exceptional; as well, the majority of the drivers possess philosophical attitudes and good-heartedness. It's a view from that front bench seat by the door that will undoubtedly alter every reader's perception and/or preconceived notions about the people who carry us from one point to another--in any city or town.
Everyone in this book is revealed, warts and all, with perception and, by the end, with a hard-won perspective that leads not only to the author's self-acceptance but also to a new level of respect for the wonderfully well-depicted Beth (in all her rotund, stubborn glory); for the parents and siblings who spent decades of their lives striving not only to be supportive of their sister but also their efforts to come to terms with the effects of Beth on their own lives.
This is a brave and enlightening book that leaves one filled with admiration for both Rachel and Beth, along with a heightened sense of how, so often, while we might think we're coping well with whatever life throws at us, below the surface linger effects of which we may well be unaware.
Most highly recommended.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lima VINE VOICE on December 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
I always try to read a book without any prejudices in regards to the author or the story's nature. But, I have to admit that I was more than a little afraid at first about Riding The Bus With My Sister. I feared that this book would be a stereotypical "feel good" story, where the mentally retarded sister was depicted as a misunderstood noble creature and the "bus rides are a journey of self-discovery" metaphor was abused.
It didn't take me long to realize that my initial fears were unfounded. They went unrealized because Simon chose to infuse her story with honesty, instead of stereotype. Nowhere is this quality better displayed than in her depiction of Beth. Simon makes a point of showing that her sister is stubborn, opinionated, and not liked by everyone. But, she also shows that Beth has qualities that make her distinctive and important. By providing this balanced portrayal, Simon gives her sister a realism that transcends the stereotypical depiction of the mentally disabled.
The only area where Simon veers dangerously close to typecast is in her portrayal of the "wise beyond their station in life" bus drivers. While she does state that not all drivers were like those she highlighted, those that were shown were portrayed as near saints. What rescues this depiction is the honesty behind the stories. Simon takes care to show how each of these drivers obtained their wisdom through their life experiences. As a result, the drivers, and their level of understanding, become believable.
While the metaphor running throughout the book had the potential to be abused, it turned out to be appropriate. Because of the truthful portrayal of her sister and the situations during that year of riding, I came to believe that Simon had discovered, changed, and grown.
Read more ›
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Rachel Simon has written a clear-eyed and inspirational memoir about life with her sister, a stubborn and resourceful woman who has mental retardation. Beth lives by herself in an unnamed Pennsylvania city where she fills her days with riding bus route after bus route, chatting with the drivers and a few of the passengers. When Beth challenges Simon, a professor and writer, to ride the buses with her for a year, Simon accepts.
Of course, Simon has a job and a life in another city, so her visits to Beth are necessarily brief and divided by days, maybe weeks. Simon isn't sure what to expect of this new time spent with her sister except for early rising (Beth rushes out of the house every morning at 5:30 am, rain or shine) and frantic sprints to public restrooms. On a superficial level, Simon understands what her sister does all day. What Simon doesn't expect is to find a richness in Beth's life that she herself lacks. This insight, gained not only through living with her sister but also through conversations with the bus drivers who have befriended Beth, leads Simon to re-evaluate her own priorities and choices.
This book is a journey of two sisters, who cover distances both geographical and emotional. Simon writes with heartfelt, no-nonsense prose that carries this story with remarkable aplomb. Her portraits of the individual drivers are filled with detail and sharp-eyed perception. Her honesty about her own misgivings and failings is refreshing, and the lack of sentimentality is a relief. What most distinguishes this book, however, is Simon's palpable affection for her sister. Both Beth and Simon are remarkable women, and I heartily thank Simon for allowing me a glimpse into their lives.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By BeachReader on December 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Many things in this book amazed me, not the least of which was the support system of bus drivers who were such an integral part of Beth Simon's life as she rode the city buses, day after da,y in an unnamed Pennsylvania city.
Rachel, spending part of the year accompanying her mildly retarded sister on her daily rounds of bus rides, intricately depicts these drivers and their(mostly) caring attitudes toward Beth. It was amazing to her that Beth actually had a better support system than she did in her so-called "normal" life.
Interspered in the monthly entries are vignettes about the past shared by these two sisters and their siblings. Their total abandonment by their mother when she decided to marry an abusive convict was heart-wrenching. But this book was never whiny- rather, it showed the resilience of this family.
I learned a lot about the social services, within a community, that are provided to disabled people like Beth. Her "team" seemed very caring and involved with her life.
I felt Rachel's frustration as she tried to convince Beth to eat better, take better medical and dental care of herself, and to get some kind of a job. Beth's stubbornmess and willfulness were also a challenge to her sister, as was her demanding attitude.
This book is perceptive, enlightening, painfully honest....and memorable. I am so glad that I read it and that Rachel Simon allowed me into her world.
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