44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unflinchingly honest
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...
Published on September 29, 2002 by Charlotte Vale-Allen
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Preachy and over-sweet, but honest
Well, hmmm...I really love the IDEA of this book. Rachel Simon, the author, spent a year with her mentally challenged sister, who spends her days riding the city buses. However, the actual book was REALLY preachy at times, I felt. The author spends much of the book being critical of herself and how she is living her own life, but I often felt that I was supposed to be...
Published on January 7, 2005 by Tracy Middlebrook
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unflinchingly honest,
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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.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Honesty Transforms Potentially Clichéd Tale,
This review is from: Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey (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. She shows this growth by movingly displaying the two most important points she learned: that everyone has value and that insight can be obtained from anywhere. If every book imparted such knowledge, the world would be a richer place. But, since most books don't pass along such lessons, one should grasp those, like Riding The Bus With My Sister, that do add this value to one's life.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unforgettable journey,
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible!,
This review is from: Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey (Paperback)My high school decided this summer that all students--including those with massive amounts of homework already--should read a book to enhance our tolerance of disabilities. When I recieved the letter in mid-July, I was, to put it bluntly, pissed off. I had enough work as it was; why did the administration feel the need to torture me further? However, all such feelings evaporated after reading just a few chapters of this book. I finished it this evening, and can honestly say I've never enjoyed a school-assigned book more than this. Ms. Simon's "dark voice" reveals her unspoken thoughts of her sister Beth, but the lack thereof shows that she is not simply a monster who refuses to accept her sister's condition. I found all of the characters wonderfully insightful, each in his or her own way. Each tells something about human nature. I absolutely adored Beth's dynamic personality, going from streetwise and sassy, to slightly shy and loving, to downright rude and anti-social, all in the space of mere seconds. She is portrayed the way all people with mental retardation should be: normally. 10 stars out of 5! Do yourself a favor and pick up this book!
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Special Journey,
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riding the Bus with Rachel and Beth,
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Highly Engrossing, Nontraditional Memoir,
This review is from: Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey (Paperback)Midway through RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER, Rachel Simon's engrossing, nontraditional memoir, Simon makes a startling observation: Almost all of the characters with mental retardation depicted in books come from fiction. FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, OF MICE AND MEN, THE SOUND AND THE FURY --- she ticks them off one by one but can't remember a work of significance, or even one of dubious merit, that is nonfiction. Perhaps Simon has written the first book in this cannon.
RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER has the insight of a literary work, the angst of a memoir, the heroes of a novel, and the page-turning sensibilities of a thriller. There is little suspense or drama, at least of the broader scale type. But for those who want to read about true life, it doesn't get any more real than dealing with a disabled member of the family --- Rachel's younger sister Beth, to be specific. She's a stubborn, independent, mildly retarded woman of 38 when Rachel agrees to take time out of her busy and mostly empty life to ride the buses with her sister. Beth, who lives alone in an assisted living facility, rides the buses in her mid-sized Pennsylvania city from dawn to dusk everyday except Sunday (no runs). She loves bright colors, brighter clothing, Top Forty radio and her boyfriend, Jesse. Beth hates mean people, vegetables, bigots and dentists. For sure, she is not your typical protagonist and neither, thank goodness, is Simon your typical narrator.
She admits to many faults, to being too wrapped up in her work to spend time with people, much less her troubled and troubling sister. Rachel undertakes the year of bus riding, scrunched between daily commitments to writing, teaching and planning events at a bookstore, in order to grow closer to Beth but also to assuage her guilt at being a bad sister. She remembers a time when her father, desperate after months of a then-mid 20s Beth acting out in ways he could not control, asked her to take temporary custody of her younger sister one weekend a month. Rachel refused, as did siblings Laura and Max. Though Rachel and Beth played together when they were young, their conversations have become forced and uncomfortable --- until Rachel agrees to ride the buses.
There she finds that Beth has fashioned a community for herself. Not every driver likes her. Some won't even tolerate her. Unsympathetic passengers sometimes scream at Beth, an unstoppable chatterbox. Beth feels a sense of purpose and entitlement on these buses that both amazes and frustrates her sister.
Through their 12 months, Simon realizes, startlingly, that she does not know the actual definition of "mentally retarded." Her quest to learn more about her sister's disability is one of the most compelling parts of the book. Simon doesn't crusade or sugarcoat. She presents differing yet intriguing views on how those with mental retardation should be treated, eventually settling on self-determination as the imperfect right choice. No matter what, Simon never claims more knowledge than she has. We are learning right along with her. As the lacking literature on mentally disabled people shows, this is a good thing because we are mostly an uninformed audience.
The only real criticism of RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER may be the way Simon raises the bus drivers to pedestals, in the way that Beth herself often does. They are portrayed as wise wageworkers, dispensing penny truths that lessen white-collar guilt during their many cameos. Simon seems to acknowledge that she is at risk for demigoding these regular humans when she revisits them later in the book, explaining some flaws that may have been overlooked upon first acquaintance. Of course, that's hard to fault when some of these too-good-to-be-true drivers seem exactly that, such as Jacob, the driver who tries to teach Beth the philosophy of "do unto others" and brings the sisters to the beach on his day off.
More than anything, though, it is the italicized pieces at the end of each section that bring the book to life. These are Simon's accounts of growing up with her sister, and they combine for a fascinating look at what it's like growing up in a family living with disability. No family can claim it is without distractions or the tiniest bit of dysfunction; Simon's clan has plenty of both. And yet in the end, there is a satisfactory, realistic ending. Beth will continue to ride the buses and Rachel will continue to wonder if she is doing right by her sister. But these days, at least the two understand each other slightly better.
--- Reviewed by Toni Fitzgerald from Bookreporter.com
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest and edifying,
This book should be required reading of all the hyperbusy yuppies around (esp. ones here in the Bay Area)....Rachel does a great job in showing the slow transformation of her values from workaholic wannabe Big Person with a Big Job, to a more well-rounded humanitarian who can enjoy life's simpler pleasures and relationships with others, through her interactions with her sister and various bus drivers. The book is realistic in that it doesn't try to give any pat answers or solutions to the issues surrounding the care of the mentally retarded. This story could have been overly politically correct if written by a less talented author, but Rachel's refreshingly honest in her depiction of her frustrations with Beth, and she doesn't oversentimentalize the loving aspects of their sisterly relationship, or pontificate/overgeneralize when discussing her struggles. A pleasure to read, with some great life wisdom to stay with you long after you're done with the book.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful ride!,
All the people I encountered came alive. I wanted to meet them, talk to them, tell them how much I enjoyed sharing this journey with them.
The book has so much to recommend it.
For starters, Rachel Simon was unflinchingly honest.
Then, too, I was captivated by the way she wove the past and present without missing a beat. The moment I finshed this book I started telling others about it.
And it showed how we often find courage and strength of spirit often in the most unexpected places.
In a world when we are now, more than ever, seeking connections and enduring verities, this book is a must read.
It resonates, still, whenever I see it on my bookshelf. I suspect it always will.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing.,
This review is from: Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey (Paperback)Erma Bombeck once wrote that each year l00,000 women would become mothers of disabled children, and she asked the question: Did you ever wonder how those mothers are chosen? She went on to say she believed that God chose mothers who are happy, who know how to laugh, and who don't have too much patience else they might drown in self pity. She believed that a little selfishness is also called for so the mother can separate herself occasionally for survival.
Erma Bombeck would have known these things as, it is reported, she, herself was the mother of a handicapped child.
I believe that God chooses siblings of mentally disabled individuals for many of the same reasons. When you have a handicapped sibling that you truly love, you do see things more clearly, and as Erma Bombeck thought, you have the ability to rise above ignorance, cruelty and prejudice.
These are the things that Rachel Simon writes about in her book Riding The Bus With My Sister. While, during her lifetime, she has had feelings about her sister that she isn't totally comfortable with, she had the courage to reunite in a significant way with Beth. Both Rachel and Beth have risen above the aforementioned: ignorance, cruelty and prejudice.
I read with displeasure a couple of these book reviews by people who probably, not one day in their lives, have known or been close to someone with mental retardation. I found those reviews to be astonishing.
Rachel Simon spent a lot of time, when she could have been doing something else, to write a book of explanation as to what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone like her sister, Beth. In riding the bus with Beth, she became even more aware of how the world was treating her sister. Yes, as she writes, there are many kind people in this world, and then there are some who are not. No, it is not a perfect world, but, it is a better world for having people among us who live each day the best way they can, who challenge US to be better people.
Rachel tells me the book has been made into a television movie. I can't wait to see it! Thank you Rachel and Beth for sharing your lives with us.
Sally N. Crowe, Author: The Spirit Beside Me
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Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey by Rachel Simon (Paperback - August 26, 2003)
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