Thursday, December 27, 2012

"The Story of Beautiful Girl" Book Review

It is the late 1960's and Lynnie, known as "No-no", and Homan, known only as No. Forty Two as they don't know his name, escape the School for Incurable and Feebleminded in Pennsylvania.  Both Lynnie and Homan have been committed to the school, left and forgotten by everyone they've known.  Lynnie, by her parents, because she had a developmental disability and Homan, by the police because he is deaf and unable to communicate and they didn't know who he was.   Being higher functioning, they are allowed a little bit more freedom within the institution and so manage to meet secretly now and then forming an deep bond and friendship which eventually leads to love.  On the night they escape, they knock on the farmhouse door of a widow and former teacher named Martha, who despite her fear takes a bold step of compassion and lets them in, feeding and clothing them.  But they also bring with them a newborn infant, one that no one knows about,  and when the police knock on the door looking for them, Martha makes a promise and pledge to Lynnie to hide the child.  While Homan escapes once again, Lynnie is taken back to the institution with the hopes that Homan will come back for her and they will find Martha and the baby.  But Homan's life takes on twists and turns that he never could have forseen and as he tries to navigate the world without hearing and understanding he is taken away farther and farther away from where Lynnie is, not knowing how to get back to her.  Lynnie lives her days in the horrors of the institution while finding a friend in a worker there who takes her under her wing.  Martha makes good on her promise to hide the baby and take of her and spends many years on the run moving from city to city.  That timid knock on the farmhouse door will change all their lives and the next forty years will see them face insurmountable odds while trying to keep their hopes alive that one day they will reunite.

I picked this book up because the description on the back grabbed me.  My field of study and interests in college was Rehabilitation Services and there was a couple of institutions that we were supposed to tour during our study years.  I was always very interested in the courses that studied the history and attitudes of the different time periods of society and how they treated their handicapped, who they considered were disabled and what they did to and for the individuals.  This was an incredible story that showed the plight of hundreds of thousands of American people in the 60's and 70's who were committed to institutions around the country not only for severe handicaps for such small things as not pronouncing their words properly or for being deaf or blind.  Because the story spanned so many years it also took us through the movement to deinstitutionalize those that had been "put away" and forgotten and bring them back into the community.

 Through much research and the inspiration of a true story she read of an African American deaf man who was committed simply because he could not communicate and make himself understood and having the experience of a sister with developmental disabilities whom her parents refused to send to an institution, the author shows us not only the horror of what the institutions were like but also the opposite side, the story of those support workers who were caring and loving individuals and did the best they could for the patients in the most awful of circumstances.  The story was an emotional ride that spanned forty years of three individuals who were drawn together by circumstance, love and commitment and though at times lost hope, continued to press on in their search to reunite.  It was beautiful and heart wrenching and definitely needed keenex at the end.   The author's notes and Q and A with the author at the back of the book were well worth the read and added greatly to the story.

 Rating this book 9.5/10 it's one of my favorite stories for 2012.


Faith said...

Oh my goodness!! i have GOT to find this book at the library!! Me and my coworkers would LOVE this....actually anyone in the special ed dept in our district would love it!! It sounds really well written and a story I would LOVE! thanks for the review and see you tomorrow for the FFF!

Annette Whipple said...

I loved it, too! The author is pretty local to me which is how I first learned of it.

nikkipolani said...

Sounds like an engaging book, Susanne. I like ones that span several years and show how institutions change over time.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Wow! This sounds like a fantastic and interesting story! Thanks for the great review .