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The Story of Beautiful Girl Paperback – February 13, 2012
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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.
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 we’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 we’re not twins."
As with any siblings who are so close in age, we’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. We’ve both always known that, whenever necessary, I will act as a go-between: I will explain to her the things she doesn’t understand about the world, and I will explain to the world the things it doesn’t understand about her.
At the same time, since she is a person with a disability, I’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 she’s helpless, underestimated by people who assume she’s angelic. In addition, I’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, I’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 wouldn’t get bogged down by cliches and stereotypes. As someone who’d already published two books of fiction before Riding The Bus With My Sister, I wouldn’t have to stick with nonfiction, nor was I daunted by the idea of a novel. As a sister who’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 there’s another word that’s synonymous with being a go-between: being a translator. I’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 I’ve always done. I wrote about the world’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 wouldn’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.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In this enthralling love story, Lynnie, a young white developmentally disabled woman with limited speech, and Homan, a deaf African-American man, meet at the Pennsylvania State School for the Incurable and Feebleminded in the late 1960s. Despite strict rules, poor conditions, an abusive staff, and the couple's lack of language, Lynnie and Homan share tender moments. After their escape, a few days of freedom not only enables the secretly pregnant Lynnie to give birth outside the walls of the corrupt institution, it also secures the couple's admiration for one another. Fears of discovery force them to leave the baby in the hands of a nurturing widow, Martha Zimmer. Soon after, the school's staff apprehend Lynnie, while Homan flees. Although their stories diverge and unfold independently of one another, memories of their short time together sustain them for more than 40 years as they develop the confidence to eventually parent, learn to sign and speak, and finally, reunite. Simon (Riding the Bus with My Sister) who grew up with a developmentally disabled sister, has written an enormously affecting read, and provided sensitive insight into a complex world often dismissed by the "abled." (May)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
This is an inside look into lives of folks who do not fit in. I hope that it has changed my attitude as well and that i can be more part of the solution rather than the problem. May we all be more loving and accepting of people at whatever stage we encounter them. Seek more to console than to be consoled
In the beginning the main characters are rendered with powerful and imaginative strokes; an old lady is gifted with a baby she never had, the new mother is a confused woman escaping from a home for the feebleminded, accompanied by a deaf, black man, who has also been raised as if feebleminded because of his inability to communicate with clarity. After a single random (or is it magically pre-destined?) meeting, the three head off in various directions. The young woman returns to the institution, the black man remains on the run, and the old woman adopts the baby as her own grandchild. The book follows their adventures as these people wander and wonder throughout their lives, and introduces interesting secondary characters along the way.
A mild critique is that the flow of the book meanders and swirls into secondary plots more than I would have liked. I was interrupted several times by a busy day of chores, so I kept losing the flow, but perhaps it is the author's fault, because she makes the reader connect so strongly with her main characters in the opening chapters, then leaves each character in the sidelines while picking up other stories, or introducing secondary characters. If the author had fleshed the main story lines out to tighten one or two riddles in the plot, or kept more focused on the main characters, it'd be a more conventional, slightly more satisfying read.
That said, it is true that relationships can be mended and resurrected in a lifetime, and new friendships grow whiles others fade. Mostly, this is an informed and heartfelt rendition of the lives of those who were incarcerated for the crime of being wired differently from the norm. It reminds me of the sister in the "Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" - if you wondered what can happen to inconvenient people, this is an eyeopener of a tale.
Very heartfelt writing. To my surprise, I dropped tears on the very last page. I like a touch of unconventional writing, worked for me.
First, Buddy escapes and manages to run further while vowing to himself to find Beautiful Girl again. Second, Lynnie has given birth when they run away and finds refuge with Martha. Lynnie asks Martha to protect her baby not knowing if she will ever be with her again. Martha's warmth and compassion are truly admirable as she keeps Lynnie's secret for decades and raises Lynnie's daughter as she believes Lynnie would have wanted. Lynnie and Homan forge friendships with others during the time they are apart and find ways to join the society we tend to call normal.
The questions raised in the beginning weave throughout the novel - Will Buddy and Lynnie ever find each other again? Will they find Martha and the girl? Who is the little girl's father? Are they getting closer to answers or simply conforming to life as it is? No plot twists and gut wrenching disappointment. But you might want to have a tissue handy.