I was captivated by this book. The story was engrossing. I befriended the characters and rooted for them as the story unfolded. It was written with a light, deft hand that didn’t become mawkish despite a plot that could have lent itself to that. The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon was good on so many levels. It’s my pleasure to give it my first Luxury Reading five star rating.
The story opens in 1968 as Lynnie and Homan escape from the Pennsylvania School for the Incurable and Feebleminded so that Lynnie can give birth outside the walls of the grim compound. Lynnie is a developmentally disabled young woman. Homan is an intelligent deaf black man who has a sign language system that only he understands. They have fallen in love.
After Homan helps Lynnie deliver the baby, they knock on the door of Martha’s secluded farmhouse. Martha, a retired school teacher, opens the door and grants the trio shelter. Lynnie and Homan have a few scant hours together before the authorities arrive and drag Lynnie back to the institution. Homan escapes and is presumed drowned. Lynnie frantically whispers two words to Martha: “Hide her.” The baby is left in Martha’s care as the authorities don’t know why Lynnie was so desperate to escape.
From this pivotal encounter, three divergent storylines continue through the book. Homan’s struggles to return to Lynnie who he calls ‘Beautiful Girl’ sometimes take him further and futher away from his goal of reuniting with her. Some of his adventures seem a bit Forest Gumpish and slightly improbable. But I was willing to suspend my disbelief because the story is just so good. Because of the experiences of my two deaf grandparents, I see how skillfully Simon wrote about Homan’s struggles to make himself understood to a world that didn’t understand his signs. He was often labeled as retarded and re-institutionalized or jailed.
Lynnie faces her own set of troubles upon her return to the institution. Martha tries to do right by the baby. She carves out a new life for herself and the newborn girl. The story spans forty years and has plenty of twists and turns that keep it moving along. I was hooked in the first couple of pages and just kept reading as fast as I could to see if Homan ever makes it back to Lynnie.
Rachel Simon’s earlier memoir, Riding the Bus with My Sister, proved that she could write insightful non-fiction that humanized the world of the developmentally disabled. The Story of Beautiful Girl proves that she has the same humanizing touch when it comes to writing fiction about similar human conditions. It’s simply a great story.
Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Grand Central Publishing. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.