For all I know this book is a book club phenomenon that has been love and adored by millions. But that is not how I found it, or grew to fall in love with it. I was simply racked for time to pick a Historical Fiction for The EOG Book Club, and couldn’t muster the energy to blow through a Jane Austen novel in a little over two weeks. This lead to me frantically wandering the newly created book section of my mothers local Wal-Mart. (There is only one very tiny book store in town that keeps bankers hours.)
I was about to give up after seeing nothing that peaked my interest, regency royal scandals are not my cup of tea, when I saw this beautiful little blue cover glowing brightly on the top shelf. I thought to myself, it will be too good to be true if this turns out to be historical fiction, but low and behold it was and I was very happy.
The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon is set in the early 70’s and leads right up to current day, taking place at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, an institution where the disabled and mentally handicapped are dumped and taken care of only in the most basic way, and rarely even that.
The story follows 3 main characters:
Lynnie – a woman with developmental delays who is housed at the school who runs away with Homan after becoming pregnant due to the abuse of of the the grounds keepers.
Homan – An African American deaf-mute man sent to the School simply because no one is able to communicate with him. He falls in love with Lynnie, and after finding out about her pregnancy promises to free her from the school.
Martha – A little old woman with no children of her own living on her farm after the death of her husband. Lynnie and Homan turn up on her door step one night and trust her with hiding and caring for the new born baby after Lynnie is apprehended and Homan is lost to the night.
I was incredibly impressed with the writing style and how well the author was able to put across the thoughts and emotions of all the characters. She masterfully delves into the mind and speech of an African American man who grew up in the 50’s, and surmounts the awesome challenge of him having to describe words and people he has never heard of. She also delves into the mind and feelings of Lynnie with such delicacy and insight I wasn’t at all surprised when the author turned out to have grown up with a sister who had a disability.
Without giving too much away I want to say that this book is really amazing, a lot of really important themes were explored in interesting and engaging ways. All the characters were well fleshed out and believable, well all but one but we can gloss over her. And the setting was almost 3 dimensional. I would recommend this read to absolutely anyone, the themes are universal and there is not so much romance that it would turn a guy off reading it.
My only critique was the ending, I felt that it could have been handled way better then it was. It felt a little rushed, and really the only part of the book that didn’t feel believable to me. There are so many ways that the writer could have resolved the story and brought Lynnie’s daughter to the realization of who her family was, it may have made the book a few chapters longer but would have been well worth the extra time. Luckily the story seems to resolve its self before we get to this disconnected feeling last chapter, so it was easy to disregard it and let it end a chapter earlier.