Lindsay's Reviews > The Story of Beautiful Girl

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
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Jan 16, 2012

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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, kindly Martha is left with a newborn infant to care for, and has to act fast and decisively. 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.

Thank you very much to WHSmith for sending me a copy of this book to read and review.


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Reading Progress

January 16, 2012 – Shelved
January 30, 2012 – Started Reading
January 30, 2012 –
page 62
February 1, 2012 –
page 104
February 5, 2012 –
page 182
February 6, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Lainy Ooooh how you finding it? I am reviewing it for WHSMith - had to keep breaking it because of work so looking forward to a good read at it xxx

Lindsay Think it's a good read so far, am about 100 pages in. You? x

Lainy over 200 in, liking reading about lynnie and Martha but homan I find lacking in comparison.

Lindsay I felt the same.

Lainy <3 have you had your review posted or any contact from them?

Lindsay Hiya, no I submitted the review on the website but I've just looked and it still says 'there are no reviews for this product'. Haven't heard anything else. You?

Lainy nope and I emailed them too, very strange none posted yet more than a few have been submitted.

Lindsay Hopefully soon..

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