Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review: The Story of Beautiful Girl

I had never heard of this book prior to our book club's planning session last January. I'm so glad it ended up being one of our choices. It was an easy read, during this distracting month, because the story was compelling and kept me turning pages.

Beautiful Girl is a young girl named Lynnie who lives at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded in 1968. One day she escapes the school, escorted by a deaf African American man named Homan, who is only known at the school as Number Forty-two. Drawn by a mailbox with a lighthouse bearing the head of a man, the two arrive on the doorstep of a widow named Martha. They are not alone, however. They come bearing a newly born baby. When representatives from the school arrive, the baby is hidden away in the attic. As they take Lynnie away and search for a fleeing Number Forty-two, Lynnie whispers a  request into Martha's ear - "Hide her."

Lynnie is returned to the school to a life of drudgery and bondage, always remembering her baby and Homan but, fearing their safety, never speaking up. Number Forty-two makes his way in the world always hoping to return to Lynnie and the baby. Martha flees her home and hides the baby away, always wondering whether she has done right by the little girl.

The reader is caught up by so many questions.  Will Martha be discovered and the baby returned? How did Lynnie come to be pregnant? Will Lynnie ever again escape the abusive, sterile environment of the institution? Will Homan finally be reunited with Lynnie? Will the baby ever be told the story of her birth and secret identity? Carried along by these questions, the story unfolds like a beautiful flower.

The author, Rachel Simon is an award-winning author, best known for her memoir, Riding the Bus with My Sister. I believe she did an excellent job of drawing well-developed characters and placing them in an enticing plot line. Her tender care in portraying these disabled characters was refreshing. Moreover, it had the feel of historical fiction as it told the tale of the early years of these horrid institutions and the exposure which finally forced more humane treatment for the disabled. This is a story well worth reading.

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