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The Story of Beautiful Girl
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On a stormy night in small-town America, a couple, desperate and soaked to the skin, knock on a stranger's door. When Martha, a retired schoolteacher, answers their knock, her world changes for ever. Her visitors are Lynnie and Homan, who have fled The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded with their newborn baby. But the police are closing in and their freedom is about to be snatched away. Moments before she is taken back to the School, bound and tied, Lynnie utters two words to Martha: 'Hide her.' And so begins the heart-rending story of Lynnie, Homan, Martha and baby Julia - lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.
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The Secrets Between Us
Title: The Story of Beautiful Girl
Publication Date: 05/01/2012
ISBN 10: 0099558386
Imprint: Windmill Books
ISBN 13: 9780099558385
Lainy (So Many Books, So Little Time)
The story of beautiful girl is more than Lynnie's story. The chapters are split between Homan, Lynnie, Martha and Kate telling the story over the years to present day. It starts with Lynnie and Homan busting out from the school to protect Lynnie's child and the events that unfold from that night.
This book has been rated with people loving it or hating it, I am on the fence to be honest. I loved Lynnie's bravery, her character, strength and what she achieved and becomes despite basically being written off with so many of the residents of the school. I loved reading about her and learning about the school and shocked to find out institutions like this actually existed (who said you learn nothing from fiction!). I loved Homan and Lynnie's love and their innocence and despite everything they experienced, never forgetting each other or Little One.
I hated how the chapters jumped in years and a lot of things were missed and never explained, you just had to fill in the blanks yourself and whilst some readers may like that it annoys me greatly. I felt some of Homan's chapters rambled on about nothing I felt relevant when we could have been reading more about Lynnie, Julia or Martha. I did enjoy reading his stories earlier in his life and the discovery of sign language on both counts though.
Overall the things that annoyed me didn't take away from my enjoyment and it is a great story, hard to read in some places as the bad things are no doubt what were experienced by real people who were kept in these institutions. 3/5 for me and I would read this author again as the style and flow were very easy to follow despite the jumps in years from chapter to chapter.
This captivating book follows the story of Lynnie, Homan and Martha from 1968 in Pennsylvania to 2011.
Lynnie , a young woman with an intellectual disability, and Homan, a deaf man with only sign language to guide him, make a desperate escape from the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded for just long enough to leave Lynnie’s newborn baby with Martha, a retired school teacher. Lynnie is quickly captured and returned to The School, but Homan, presumed dead, makes his escape.
Each chapter concentrates on one character, building up an intricate description of each of their lives. There is Kate, who works at The School and her unfailing support for Lynnie, Homan’s constant search for Lynnie (his Beautiful Girl) and her baby, and his belief that he will find her. Martha, who takes in a stranger’s baby and honours her promise to “Hide her.” and of course Lynnie, who is the “Beautiful Girl”.
I loved the way the story was written and found the characters incredibly believable. Rachel Simon has obviously researched her facts very thoroughly- the end notes give her reasons for writing the book. The fact that institutions such as The School existed until such recent times was horrifying and the way that children, babies and adults were kept there was deeply upsetting.
I read this book within a week as I quickly found myself swept along by events and wanted to find out if they would ever be reunited.
I would recommend this book without hesitation. It was a beautiful story. Moving at times, tragic in parts, uplifting and informative.
It is 1968, in Pennsylvania, USA, and one evening, widow and retired teacher Martha Zimmer answers a knock at her door. It's very unusual indeed for her to have visitors, in fact it's usually just on Christmas Day when she has an open house for her former students to visit her. The unexpected visitors who suddenly arrive from nowhere will change the rest of her life. Lynnie and Homan, the visitors, have escaped from the nearby 'School for the Incurable and Feebleminded.' They have formed a bond despite the barriers and difficulties of communication between them. And they have with them a precious cargo, Lynnie's newborn baby girl. They have been there only a short while when people from the School find them and try to take them back. But Lynnie is able to force out the words 'Hide her' to Martha, and the baby stays safely with Martha as Lynnie is dragged away, and Homan runs for his freedom.
The story moves forward then, all told through the third person narrator, in chapters which alternate between the characters Martha, Lynnie, Homan and Kate, who is an assistant at the School. Having been institutionalised for so long, it is a new and daunting world for Homan as he struggles to cope on the outside. We are told what happened to him in the past and how he came to end up in the School. Likewise with Lynnie, who is returned to the School, where she communicates with Kate through her artwork alone, we are given an insight into her earlier years, and the way in which she came to be there too. For both of them, it is inevitably a tale of sadness, and their lives at the School are very limited, and very unhappy. They suffer at the hands of those who are supposedly their carers, as there was little insight then into how to help them with their mental disabilities, and they were routinely treated with cruelty rather than supported or nurtured. Lynnie is fortunate that in Kate, she has someone who does care, and spends a little time with her trying to bring out the person inside. Meanwhile Martha is left with a newborn infant to care for, and has to act fast. She is aided by the kindness of some of her former students.
The story moves about quite a lot, so we can learn what has happened to each of the key characters. I did feel that this made the book a little disjointed at times though, and also that I engaged much more with the stories of Lynnie and Martha than that of Homan, and when reading certain chapters I wanted to get back to the other stories; it jumped around a little too much. Lynnie is portrayed as very perceptive for a character that is suffering from an intellectual disability, perhaps too much at times to be convincing. I felt the plot was a little slow at times too, and would have liked to engage with it more. Though a very worthwhile story to tell, and very engaging at the start, I felt it needed more to keep it enthralling through to the end.
Thinking about the issues raised in this novel, it's the proximity of the date that shocks me the most. As recently as the late 1960's and early 1970's, these institutions still existed, and the inhumane, terribly unkind treatment of the people who were forced to live there, having no other option, is deeply saddening. I feel the author has tackled an important issue in discussing this shameful past treatment of some of society's most vulnerable people, bringing it to a wide audience through her story. She talks in the notes at the end of the book about why this is of such a personal importance to her, and she has evidently researched the background very thoroughly.
Rachel Simon is an award-winning author, renowned public speaker, and sister of a woman with an intellectual disability. She is best known for her critically acclaimed, bestselling memoir Riding the Bus with My Sister, which was adapted for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie and is a much-beloved selection of book clubs and secondary school reading lists. She lives in Delaware.
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