The Story of Beautiful Girl
Rachel SimonIt 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.
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