Book review: The Story of a Beautiful Girl

FC9780446574464The Story of a Beautiful Girl is a love story unlike any before.

Written by best-selling author Rachel Simon, this novel delves into unexplored territory — the bond between Linny and Homan, two residents locked away at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded in the 1960s.

The book opens with their escape on a cold rainy night. The two take shelter at the farmhouse of a widow named Martha. Linny seems mute and Homan is deaf, but their desperation is clearly communicated.

Soon institution staff apprehend Linny, and Homan escapes. But they’ve quickly earned Martha’s sympathy, and she takes up the charge Linny whispers as she is led away — to hide the newborn infant girl hidden in the attic.

Thus begins a story that follows the characters through the next 40 years: Linny, who remains at the institution and finds her voice; Homan, always trying to find his way back to her; and Martha, raising the girl named Julia.

The Story of a Beautiful Girl explores the love between two people that others assume incapable of connection. And, though fiction, offers a look into the dark past of America’s institutions and the abuse and neglect of people too vulnerable to fight back.

Simon is the author of Riding the Bus With My Sister, a memoir chronicling her relationship with her sister, Beth, who has an intellectual disability. Beth was raised at home with Simon, during a national shift away from institutionalization. Her dark portrayal of the institutional world makes me wonder if it was often on her mind as it was on mine, as a reality my sister escaped.

Simon includes a sibling as a minor character in this story. Linny’s sister Lauren returns decades after her parents, embarrassed by their daughter’s behavior, confine Linny to the institution. It’s an interesting exploration of the siblings of that era who reconnected.

The book has been an Indie Bound Bestseller, Christian Science Monitor Bestseller and highlighted by Oprah Magazine and USA Today. Simon blogs frequently about her travels, her writing and her advocacy for people with disabilities.

The Story of a Beautiful Girl is a wonderful and brave story.

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