126 of 134 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2011
I blame Rachel Simon. I blame her for the bags under my eyes and the toothpicks holding up my eyelids. And, it's all because of this book, The Story of Beautiful Girl. 3 nights this week it's had me just one more paging myself into a 2:30 am bedtime. Y'all, I have to tell you about this book. Editorial reviews describe this book as an enthralling or unlikely love story but it is so much more. In fact, by calling this book a love story, I think the editors do it a disservice and turn away a bunch of possible (read younger males) readers. Sure, The Story of Beautiful Girl tells the story of Lynnie and Homan, two people in love who tried to run away from the Pennsylvania State School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. But, their love story isn't what drives the book. The reader recognizes that despite Lynnie's and Homan's disabilities they have the same human needs and desires that each of us do. Yes, they need freedom, respect, beauty, shelter, education, and even love. With this recognition of a very basic kinship with Lynnie and Homan, the reader begins to care about these characters whose surfaces seem so different from us. Ms. Simon's ability to create characters that we identify with and care about allows her to enthrall her readers with a decades spanning story that at times horrifies with it's unflinching look at the mistreatment of the disabled. But, The Story of Beautiful Girl does not only horrify. It also delights and thrills the reader as you watch Lynnie and Homan grown and learn and become fully realized members of the big, wide world we all live in. The Story of Beautiful Girl is a rare gem of a book and is well worth having in your library. Do yourself a huge favor and pick up a copy as soon as you can.
287 of 328 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2011
I have worked with children who are developmentally delayed as well as those who are hearing impaired for over 30 years, so I know a thing or two about the field. I've been working long enough that I remember those institutions, how bad most of them were, how mistreated many of my students had been. So when I heard of this book, I was very interested in reading it. And in the end I was very disappointed. Don't get me wrong, the writer has done her research about the institutions, and has a lifetime of experience as a sibling of a person with a mental impairment. The writing though left a lot to be desired.
I like for authors to show me, not tell me. There were too many times when she described what someone was thinking or what was happening, instead of showing me. I didn't think she fleshed out the characters in a way that I could see them living and breathing. Think 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' - reading that made me see the people in the book. Here, they all felt cardboard and cliched- either good or evil, strong or weak. I also felt that the writing was rather juvenile; many times I wondered if the book was meant more for Young Adults.
Then was the unbelievability of much of the plot. First, I questioned how much Lynnie would have been able to hide her pregnancy, and/or hide the fact that she just gave birth. Second, People can indeed be generous and giving. But I found that too often Martha was given a door to escape to with each conflict, someone on the other end who was going to be helping her make it. I wanted all the characters to succeed, but I felt too often it was via other people, not themselves. Finally, people who are deaf don't usually have the kind of language that Homan uses. If the writing is good enough, I can brush aside these anachronisms. But it wasn't, and I couldn't.
I'm not looking for a literary masterpiece; I wanted a read that would pull me into that time and place, with characters I would remember long after I close the book. Unfortunately that didn't happen here. I am giving this book a 2* instead of a 1*, because I can see the promise of a good writer, and that I suspect her non fiction memoir was probably heads and tails better than this. I know I am in the minority, and fully expect folks to be up in arms, giving me 'not helpful' votes and making negative comments. So be it. I could care less about my rank here. What I expect from other reviewers are honest reviews. I hope at least I have written one.
47 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2011
The Story Of Beautiful Girl is an enthralling love story with many obstacles in the way thwarting the lovers from being together for decades.
The story begins with Lynnie a young and beautiful disabled white woman with limited speech abilities and Homan, a deaf-mute African American man, who have escaped from the Pennsylvania State School of the Incurable and Feebleminded in the last 1960's. Lynnie is pregnant and it is imperative to the two that the baby not be born under those circumstances.
The night the baby is born, its windy and rainy and the two stumble upon a farmhouse of retired grade-school teacher, Martha Zimmer. Hiding in her attic, they are discovered, Lynnie is captured and returned to the school, Homan escapes and the baby is left behind in the hopes that Martha will look after her.
Over the course of the next 30 years we share their ups and their downs, their worries and their happiness. Lynnie never gives up her love of Homan and knows one day he will return for her. Martha agrees to look after the baby and spends the remaining years in contast state of fear that the secret will be found out and the baby will removed from her care. Enlisting her past students, each of them plays a role in hiding Martha and the baby til the day that Lynnie or Homan return. Homan travels about the country with no way of knowing where to find Lynnie, he doesn't even know her name, but as fate would have it, he is lead to the one place they shared in common, Lynnie's love of lighthouses. Will he ever find his true love or will he remain with only a lighthouse to remember her by?
** MAY contain a SPOILER for some...but I don't think so! **
I just loved this book and couldn't put it down, I had to know if Lynnie ever got to see her baby and if she and Homan were ever reunited. The conditions of the psychiatric hospitals in the 60's and 70's were deplorable and I couldn't imagine how anyone could stand by as long as they did before the abuse was reported and the hospitals took a huge overhaul. I could imagine seeing this tale recapitulated to the big screen, it would make a great movie! I think the only thing that could've made the book better, was giving the reader more insight to the kinds of abuse occurred in the state run hospitals. As well, I was a tad disappointed in the ending, I wanted to see and feel the outcome and let the emotions that had built up during the read be released and there wasn't any, it was left to the imagination of the reader and this reader wanted release. All in all, the book is excellent and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a love story with insurmountable odds.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2011
I rarely write reviews for books online even though I'm a voracious reader. But I finished this book last night and I just had to write something because it moved me so much. The story and the voices are incredible. I stayed up late reading this book each night this past week because I just didn't want to put it down. I returned it to the library today, a week before it was due, because I just want other people to read it. Rachel Simon made me love these characters. She created people so real you feel that you know them intimately. Lynnie's and Homan's strength in a world that does not understand them or treat them with the respect they deserve is breath-taking. And Martha and Kate's devotion is unparallelled. I would be honored to know anybody in real life like these people. The book has the rare ability to make your heart leap from page to page. I wish everyone would read this book and think twice, even if just for a moment, about the way our society treats people with disabilities.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Article first published on blogcritics.org.
The Story of Beautiful Girl was released in May 2011 by Grand Central Publishing, a division of the Hatchett Group. Within two weeks, the book hit the New York Times best seller list.
How does society deal with those of us who cope with disabilities? How would you want to be treated if you had a disability? The Story of Beautiful Girl forces us to address these questions. More importantly, it gives us a glimpse into the innermost thoughts of those treated as "feeble-minded" in what was at the time an uncaring, ignorant society. Both captivating and heartbreaking, the book is meant to be savored, not merely read. Adeptly nuanced and originally wrought, the book explores our compassion and intolerance toward people different than ourselves.
In 1968, Martha, an elderly widow, answers a knock on her farmhouse door. On her doorstep are two escapees from the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. Lynnie, a white woman with a developmental disability has just given birth to a baby girl. Protecting them is Homan, a deaf African American man. Lynnie is recaptured by the authorities, and Homan escapes. Lynnie whispers to Martha, "Hide her." Those two words launch us into the forty-year story of characters whose love surpasses the insurmountable obstacles they face. Although Beautiful Girl and Homan live apart for decades, the author masterfully intertwines their life stories, inner thoughts and the hope that sustains them.
Life returns to normal for no one in this thought-provoking book. Martha, whose telephone rings only on December 24, when her former students call to arrange a visit on Christmas day, finds her life changed as she cares for baby Julia. The child draws people into Martha's life and gives her newfound purpose.
Rachel Simon, a nationally known public speaker, is the author of the critically acclaimed bestseller, Riding the Bus with My Sister. The memoir chronicles the year Ms. Simon spent accompanying her sister Beth, who is afflicted with an intellectual disability, on joyful bus rides through a city in Pennsylvania. Though this experience, the author gleaned an understanding of the inner life of the developmentally disabled. Haunted for years by the story of an unidentified, deaf African American man found wandering the streets in Chicago, Ms. Simons captures the essence of both in the novel she says, "Burst out of me like nothing before."
This reader (who has a physical disability) believes the feelings of those with disabilities remain a mystery to those outside of our sphere. Ms. Rosen convinces otherwise. The author's sensitivity to the world of the disabled comes from the personal experience of her sibling as well as interviews with people who had been wrongfully institutionalized and professionals who staff group homes. The book's dedication reads, "For those who were put away." Although Ms. Simon's awareness of the institutional life forms a backbone for the book, it is her insight into the indomitable spirit of the human soul that infuses The Story of Beautiful Girl with brilliance and honesty.
The book jacket brilliantly captures the bond between the characters. We see a silhouette of "Beautiful Girl, Lynnie" on the book cover. Feathers are imprinted on the inside cover. When Lynnie and Homan were together, she drew the night skies and "feather" was the name of a constellation he taught her. At their coming together in the cornfield a flying bird dropped a red feather, which they pressed together between their chests. "Red feathers are rare," says Lynnie's sister with whom she is ultimately reunited. "If you find one, you should keep it forever." On the back cover, a child's hand reaches for a feather, perhaps symbolic of a long-awaited reunion.
Reading The Story of Beautiful Girl will change your perception of those whose challenges differ from your own. This book will move you to a better place. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Every now and then, I will read a book that touches my heart and lingers with me long after I have read the last page. The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon is such a book. In 1968 on a stormy night a lonely, elderly widow, Martha, answers a knock on her farmhouse door. Standing before her is a deaf African-American male, Homan, and a developmentally-disabled Caucasian woman, Lynnie. While Martha is not sure how or why they chose her door, what is obvious to her is the affection they have for each other, and that they are seeking refuge. As Lynnie removes her wet outer clothes, she unwraps a just-born baby girl. A little later that night, there is a second knock on the door, and it is the authorities from The Pennsylvania School for the Incurable and Feebleminded looking for two escaped inmates. But, the authorities only find Lynnie, as Homan has escaped into the dark undetected. As Lynnie is leaving she quietly whispers two words to Martha,' hide her.' Lynnie is hoping that she will not be isolated when she is returned to the school, as how else will Homan find her again. While escaping Homan is thinking on how to get back to the school to rescue Lynnie, and Martha needs to decide whether she will honor Lynnie's request.
This endearing novel goes on to follow the lives of the main characters; Homan, Lynnie, Martha and Julia (baby) over the next 40 years in a truly eye-opening tale. The book drew me in one page at a time as I needed to know if Lynnie would ever see her baby again, if Lynnie and Homan would be reunited, what decision would Martha make regarding the baby, and most importantly what was the back story that forced Lynnie and Homan to flee the school. While Ms. Simon will answer all of these questions, she will also take you into the often hidden world of the institutions that are entrusted with the care and treatment of people who society has labeled as disabled. The strength of the book is the inner monologues of Lynnie and Homan as they fight to survive in an unwelcome world with as much dignity as they can hold on to. These characters reflect the hope, challenges and despair of human nature and behavior.
While at times the story may lapse into the events that may not be quite believable to some readers, such as the unquestioning help of Martha's students, this can be easily overlooked as it helps point to several questions we as a society and as individuals need to ask ourselves: How should society cope with individuals with disabilities?, How would I want to be treated if I had a disability?, and most importantly, How do I treat individuals who are different from myself?
When Lynnie is returned to the school, we learn of the horrors, and the mistreatment she and others had to endure. While this school and many others like it have been closed and I am aware of the changes we have made in helping people with disabilities live with respect and dignity, I was dismayed to read an article in the New York Times on June 5th, regarding the death of a disabled boy and the horrific conditions under which he and others in some state institutions still have to live. Illustrating that as a society we have made some strides, but as a people we still have much to do to show compassion towards others that are different from each of us.
I highly recommend this book to all readers who enjoy stories where the human spirit triumphs over indifference.
Reviewed by Beverly
APOOO Literary Book Review
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2013
I thought I would love this story based on reviews I had read and the fact that this kind of stuff is right up my alley. I was sorely disappointed almost from the beginning. The story starts off with a great premise, but it just sort of peters out and then limps along all the way through. I found the character development lacking and I couldn't muster up much sympathy, much less empathy for a single one of them. I couldn't relate to any of the characters, either directly or indirectly, and therefore felt no connection to them or the story.
I know a lot of people love this book and I just can't figure out why. Besides the lack of character development, the story itself was too contrived. There were too many happy coincidences and too many loose ends left over. I think there were some real lost opportunities at various points of the story. But as I said before, it just peters out. Sort of like this review...
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Rachel Simon has written a wonderful novel. The story takes starts when two lovers escape from an institution. They are an interracial couple. The man is deaf and the woman has a developmental disability. The woman gives birth to a baby girl, who they hide. Parts of it were sad and parts of it left me cheering. This is a love story about all different types of families. There is plenty of action and adventure, but most of all it celebrates the perseverance of the human spirit.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2011
I work with individuals who have developmental disablilites and have for close to 15 years. Sometimes you get so use to the way things are now you forget how bad they once were. This book is educational, eye opening, and beautifully written. It is a great story about many different characters, with many differences who touch the lives of so many. If you like a heart-warming, fast paced, touching story you will love this!
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2011
Totally improbable plot, even for 1968. A 70 year old woman just happened to have all these young student friends who were willing to help her conceal this child, and raise it. I simply lost interest half way through and flipped along the pages to see who the father of the baby was and to see how it all worked out. Hollywood ending, of course.