Paperback: 346 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Preface Publishing 2011
Source: Tywyn Library, Wales.
First Sentences: 'At the end of the night that would change everything, the widow stood on her porch and watched as the young woman was marched down her front drive and shoved into the sedan.'
Favourite Quote: “How many other lives are hidden, and hearts are seeking? How many would give anything in the world to be held by the person they love?”
Review Quote: "Combines love story and social accountability to great effect"--The Guardian
My Opinion: Emotionally draining but an excellent read.
This emotionally draining but an excellent read was written due to the author's true life experiences as the sibling of someone with disabilities. She first heard about institutions like the one that features in the novel when she heard her parents discussing such places and how they would never ever have their daughter admitted to one. Her sister Beth was raised at home and the message they grew up with was that children that were put away in such institutions were never really loved by their families. Years later in the early seventies as Rachel Simon was entering adolescence she saw a news report on television that drew her attention and the rest of the USA to just how horrendous these places were. It was not until twenty seven years later when publicising a book she had written about her life with Beth, 'Riding The Bus With My Sister' that she began to learn much more about these institutions. She did this by carrying out research talking to people who had stories to tell her and reading up on a subject that very little was written about due to the fact it was a sordid political secret. One particular true story published as a book entitled God Knows His Name gave her the inspiration to write this novel, although for a long while she held off unsure if she could do justice to those that suffered in such places. Well personally I think she has carried her tribute off extremely well and given a voice to those residents of such places in this moving novel.
A moving love story about the improbable odds faced by Lynnie and Homan, a couple with disabilities, when one stormy night just after Lynnie has given birth they knock on a stranger's door. That stranger is Martha Zimmer a retired school teacher who gives up her conventional lifestyle to do something very special by taking in the baby and saving her from life in an institution. This is how the novel starts and reading it takes you across forty years as Martha carries the secret of baby Julia with her as her life progresses. The interwoven stories of the four protagonists tell of love under impossible conditions, how to do the right thing and never give up hope by continuing to believe it will all turn out right when you are the only one that believes this.
It is truly terrible that places like 'The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded' were even in existence at this time. Or any time in fact, but sadly they were and it is quite an experience to read about the shocking brutality that took place in them, even the name of the institution was I found upsetting. However the ending did surprise me but then this is a love story, my conclusion then is that this is a powerful story that I can recommend to anyone that feels they can cope with such sadness in a novel.
Rachel Simon was born in New Jersey and spent most of her first sixteen years in the New Jersey towns of Newark, Millburn, Irvington, and Succasunna. During that time, she began writing short stories and novels, which she shared widely with friends and teachers but never submitted to editors. When Rachel was eight, her parents split up. She and her three siblings remained with their mother for eight years, and then moved to Easton, Pennsylvania to live with their father, with Rachel also becoming a boarding student at Solebury School in New Hope, PA. Rachel studied anthropology at Bryn Mawr College and graduated in 1981. She then moved to the Philadelphia area and worked at a variety of jobs, including supervisor of researchers for a television study at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 1988. Just before graduating, she won the Writers At Work short story contest, and when she attended the Writers At Work conference that June in Park City, Utah, she decided to be more courageous than she’d been as a teenager. She brought multiple copies of a collection of short stories, Little Nightmares, Little Dreams, that she’d just completed and handed them to every agent and editor who was interested. An editor from Houghton Mifflin bought the manuscript six weeks later and published it to critical acclaim in 1990.
Since then she has become an award-winning author of six books and a nationally-recognized public speaker on issues related to diversity and disability. Her titles include the bestsellers, The Story of Beautiful Girl and Riding The Bus with My Sister. Both books are frequent selections of book clubs and school reading programs around the country. Rachel's work has been adapted for theater, NPR, the Lifetime Channel, and Hallmark Hall of Fame, whose adaptation of Riding The Bus With My Sister starred Rosie O' Donnell and Andie McDowell, and was directed by Anjelica Huston. Her awards include The Secretary Tommy G. Thompson Recognition Award for Contributions to the Field of Disability from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and creative writing fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, and the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. Rachel Simon lives in Wilmington, Delaware with her architect husband.
The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.
Goodreads Author Profile YouTube Rachel Simon - Official Author Website Wikipedia - Rachel Simon