Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (May 4, 2011)
Received: From Publisher
Product Description: Amazon
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.
The Story of Beautiful Girl mainly centers around Lynnie and Homan. Lynnie is a developmentally disabled pre-teen girl when she arrives at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. Her parents place her there due to their own shame and what they think others will say or think about Lynnie. When we meet Lynnie she is unable to talk coherently and in her early twenties and has just run away from the School with Number Forty-Two, another resident, an African American deaf-mute male. Lynnie and Number Forty-Two arrive at the doorstep of an elderly white woman name Martha who lives on a farm. They are now escapees from the School of the Incurable and Feebleminded and Lynnie has just given birth. Number Forty-Two is her loving protector, but not the father of her child. The authorities from the school retrieve Lynnie from Martha's home and Number Forty-Two escapes through the woods. Martha has hidden the baby in the attic as the authorities search her home. Just before the authorities take Lynnie away, Lynnie whispers to Martha, "hide her." This is the beginning of a long journey of love and hope that spans forty two years.
Over the more than four decades of being apart, Number Forty Two (Homan) and Lynnie, never stop loving and thinking of each other even though they remain apart for so long. Martha is a 71 year old woman who doesn't have children of her own and who has lost her husband, and is still grieving. She stays isolated from others except on Christmas when her previous students come to her annual Christmas party. When the authorities leave, Martha is now propelled into motherhood, something she has no knowledge or expertise in. She desires to be the best guardian she can be to the baby and seeks out help from her students to hide her and the baby from authorities.
I felt so much admiration for Martha. Here she is late in life, grieving from the loss of her husband and then she is given a blessing in disguise that gives her life and purpose. At first Martha is perplexed. She knows in her heart she will hide the baby, she never waivers on that, but she is bewildered at just how she needs to go about doing it. But once Martha sets in motion that she needs to hide somewhere people can't find her, she leaves her home and everything she once knew. Her adult students become her and the baby's extended family as they move from location to location, keeping her whereabouts secret and communicating only through letters via another student. Martha's biggest worry is that she won't live long enough to see Julia become a woman, so she tries to make sure she leaves the best impressions on the baby and teaches her everything she can while she has time.
This book is breathtaking in its moments. It's a beautiful and tender story. It is told from multiple viewpoints of the characters Lynnie, Homan, Kate and Martha. From the first few pages I was enthralled with this story. It kind of weaned about 50 pages in. Then it started to pick up again. I read this story in one day, at times I had to force myself to continue because the descriptively written words and long narratives didn't seem to move the story along, it felt like filler. But I persevered and finished before my children made it home from school.
What I loved:
I loved the book cover. It has an opaque cream colored background and the book cover has a nice sheen to it. The lettering is raised and on the inside cover the first page is red and has pictures of black feathers displayed on it; on the spine of the book it's black with a red feather. The significance of the red feather will be explained later in the book. This is a book cover that will definitely go in my favorite category, it's simple yet conveys the title very well.
I also loved how the author captured the essence of people with disabilities, it felt authentic, sensitive and comprehensive. I could tell that she had done extensive research and hadn't just made it up out of pure imagination. At the end of the book there are author notes and acknowledgments, there Rachel Simon explains that she has an intellectual disabled sister. And that she did indeed do extensive research with several institutions, residents, scholars and experts. I really enjoyed her reasoning for Number Forty Two, she said she read about a fifteen year old African American boy who was found wandering in the alley in Illinois and because authorities couldn't understand him, they didn't look for his family or send him to the school for the deaf, instead they placed him in an institution where he remained in one facility after another for fifty years until his death, his name was John Doe Number 24. Rachel explained she couldn't stop thinking about him, wondering where the people were that had loved him or that he loved. She wanted to pay tribute to him and all the people like him. I think she put forth a tremendous effort and it paid off. I did cry about 3/4's in. It resonated with me personally. And in the beginning when it seemed like Number Forty-Two may have died, I thought I was going to have to do a wall slide, crumble to the floor and take a breather. But I pressed on and I'm glad I did.
I also like how the author captured the dialect or speech used for Lynnie and how Homan might interpret what he saw, since he is deaf and mute, we rarely hear him say a complete word and he cannot read. So it was amazing me to me that from Homan's perspective, people didn't have names per se as we used them, because he didn't know them. He instead used descriptive attributes as names, such as Lynnie, who for him was "Beautiful Girl and "Sam" short for good samaritan and Little One for the baby.
What I Didn't Like:
The drawn out pages of description and details. Some times it would be pages of it that never moved the story forward. For example, a character named Blue. I understood that she was trying to show us the motivating factor for Homan as he forged on from one adversity to another. He had the memory of Blue telling him he could be a winner and we as readers would know that someone in Homan's life loved him. But I didn't need pages and pages
dedicated to Blue to get that feeling. So that part was overdone. Also, I think the book could have eliminated the viewpoint of Kate, one of the nurses at the home who was a loving and committed nurse, trying to do the right thing and yet keep her job. She befriended Lynnie and became Lynnie's confidant. Also, the ending was drawn out. It took too long to get to the good "stuff", the conclusion of this forty two year journey. The very thing I'd been hoping for and convincing myself I would get if I just kept reading...resolution. I was so tempted to just skip to the very last page and read backwards.
I would highly recommend this book and I will buy anything Rachel Simon writes in the future. I believe her intent, I believe in the love she has for her sister and the reasoning behind telling the story of people who many times don't have a voice. I know from personal experience the struggles, the joy and the resolve it takes to care for someone intellectually disabled. It can be heartbreaking and frustrating and I think caregivers don't get enough support and I think the beautiful people with their beautiful minds don't get the love, respect and support they often deserve.
I remember reading a post from a blog called Line of Serenity, it was a post about a mentally challenged boy named Denny who was in the store with his mother and a man that stopped to talk to him. The mother thanked him and said most people don't look at him, let alone talk to him. The man said, “there are plenty of red, yellow, and pink roses in God’s Garden; however, ‘Blue Roses’ are very rare and should be appreciated for their beauty and distinctiveness. You see, Denny is a ‘Blue Rose’ and if someone doesn’t stop and smell that rose with their heart and touch that rose with their kindness, then they’ve missed a blessing from God.”
So my perseverance to read the story was personal. I had to finish for my own 'blue rose'.
I give this book 4 1/2 Blue Roses. I normally don't do halfs, but it was warranted for this review because it was better than four, but not quite five.
To my very own beautiful blue rose....keep fishing for wind son. Keep fishing for wind.
Have you read a story simply because it related to you personally? If so, what was it?