The Story of Beautiful Girl

Rachel Simon

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.

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On a rain-lashed night in small-town America, a man and woman arrive at a stranger's door. Martha Zimmer is a retired schoolteacher, and a widow. Faced with the soaking-wet couple, she takes them in. Lynnie and Homan are deeply in love. They are also both disabled. Lynnie is a young white woman with an intellectual disability. Homan is a deaf-mute African-American man...

It is 1968 and the couple have escaped from harsh, inhumane conditions at The Pennsylvania State School for the Incurable and Feeble-Minded. Soon after they take shelter at Martha's house, the police catch up with them. Homan escapes, but Lynnie is captured. Before they take her away, Lynnie reveals to Martha that she has a newborn baby girl. She gives the child to Martha and begs the widow to hide her. So begins The Story of Beautiful Girl, written by an author who knows all about the way 'normal' society treats those with intellectual disabilities. Rachel Simon grew up with a sister, Beth, who suffers from the condition.

Lynnie is bound and taken back to the brutal institution from which she has just escaped. Here, iron rules are ferociously enforced, living conditions are appalling, and staff abusive and cruel. The inmates are treated as if they are sub-human. Lynnie and Homan's lives may have been torn apart, but each remembers the other with huge tenderness as their separate destinies unfold. And gradually, public attitudes to disability soften and change. Forty years later, the couple are re-united, having learned to sign and speak, and to parent their daughter. The Story of Beautiful Girl really is...well, a beautiful story.


This tale of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and Julia, their 'beautiful girl', is exceptionally moving. It is a testament to both human cruelty, and human kindness. And also to bravery and loyalty. As Judy says, author Rachel Simons knows all about the frustrations of the intellectually disabled, having a sister with that condition. So she writes with great insight and tenderness about what it is like to be totally misunderstood, as well as mistreated, by the 'able'...

Of her sister Beth, Simons says: '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 people like my sister. She gets ignored by waitresses, snickered at by teenagers, patronised by people who assume she's helpless, and underestimated by those who assume she's angelic. 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 are never seen or acknowledged or heard, might that ever change?'

What this writer has achieved is a heartbreaking account of how 'the world's rules, injustices, rewards, and irrationalities' are actually perceived by people like her sister. She also makes us comprehend their inner lives, emotions and yearnings, and the frustration they experience when we fail to understand them. It's a wonderful book, which you won't easily forget.

Reviews & Comments

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  • I really didn't enjoy this book. I was excited when I read the synopsis and really wanted to know how the story was going to turn out. Unfortunately, it was far too coincidental for me and I found Lynnie to be the complete opposite of what the author wanted her to be. The constant switching between characters drove me mad and left me really confused at times. Also, I wrongly assumed the story would be about the baby but it's not. The story didn't interest me enough and, to be honest, I found it incredibly dull. It felt like it needed a good editor.


  • Overlall I enjoyed the book, I found it slow and boring at first but loved the happy ending. I also loved the authors reason for writing the book.

    Karen L S

  • I agree with Charlene on this book, I really enjoyed the first chapter and couldn't wait to read the rest and then it all became too coincidental. What we were expected to believe was too far-fetched, I won't give details in case I spoil it for other people. Also certain descriptions spoiled the book for me, for example 'British Accent' and 'Irish Looking' eh? Are there such things? More care needed I think, but bluesky thinking definitely appears in this book!


  • I LOVED this book, once i started i had to keep going to find out what happened next. i thought martha was a very brave character (not many people would have done what she did) and i was very sympathetic towards lynnie and homan. it is scary to think about what went on in these institutions. hugely recommended...


  • I really enjoyed this one. It wasn't what I was expecting from the synopsis but a very good read. The only thing that spoiled it a bit for me was that the character of Lynnie didn't ring true - it seemed like her thoughts were too sophisticated for her supposed low IQ. The ending and the coincidences were a bit cliched but despite that I'd still give it a thumbs up.


  • I struggled with this book at first, but the more i read the more I enjoyed it. It was a troubling story and made me think. It brought tears to my eyes on a few occasions. I felt the Author struggled with the time line of the story. Knights of Reigate book club


  • The novel is food for thought about society's and family attitudes (past and present) to those with disabilities and the quality of life that is possible. Some of the novel seems to be a rather broad sweep of the brush and less credible (Martha looking after the baby) but author's notes reveal that many of the ideas were based on real life. Coincidences criticised by other reviewers are explained by the author as genuine interventions of fate in her real life. Overall I really enjoyed this book.


  • SPOILER ALERT Not a book or subject matter that I would have normally read...The first chapter made me want to read and read but progressively the story and characters became very complex..each chapter could have been its own book. Large chunks of what could have been interesting relating to the life of Julie was skipped and the sentence relating Martha s death was too throw away a comment for one of the main characters..... I still enjoyed the read !


  • I thought this book was excellent. I could not put it down and it really caught my imagination. I thought it was brilliantly written. Thank you Richard and Judy for recommending such a fabulous book. Annette Stacey

    Annette Stacey

  • I read this because I saw a review that said if you enjoyed 'The Help' you'd love 'Beautiful Girl', and I certainly did! I felt a range of emotions whilst reading it - from anger to sorrow, to happiness and relief. A really good read.

    Janet Roberts

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