Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

Rachel Simon previously wrote a work of non-fiction called, Riding the Bus with my Sister.  This story catalogs one year of Rachel spending time with her developmentally disabled sister Beth as she rides the city bus every day.  Now Ms Simon captures the life of a developmentally disabled girl in a fictional institution that houses the "feebleminded".

The Story of Beautiful Girl was well written and engrossing.  The stories haunted me.  Partly, it is the history of the evolving views and treatment of the disabled in our community, but it is also a love story and a heart pounding quest and adventure tale.

Beautiful girl and her companion show up on the doorstep of  the farm of an old widow one rainy day.  They have with them a newborn baby.  The widow gives them clothes and comfort, and before she can know their story the police arrive to arrest them and take them back to the institution from which they escaped.  As beautiful girl is stuffed into the  car to go back to her terrible life, and the companion escapes out the widow's window, Beautiful Girl whispers to the widow,  "hide her."  The widow understands she is to hide the newborn baby.

And so the story progresses: each of the four characters is living a horrible life, waiting to get back to the others.  Will Beautiful girl and her companion ever see each other again?  Ever meet their daughter? and what does the old widow do with her new responsibility?

It is a tad schmaltzy, especially toward the end, but it is a fascinating look at how the disabled are perceived in our society and how they also might perceive the world.  It can be terribly sad throughout the book but also has a lovely, sweet ending.  It is a fast, easy read especially if you like a thick coat of sugar.

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