Title: The Story of Beautiful Girl
Author: Rachel Simon
Narrator: Kate Reading
Audiobook Length: 11 hours, 53 minutes
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“The Story of Beautiful Girl gets right under the skin and into the heart with the story of Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability that hinders her ability to speak, and Homan, an African American deaf man with only his home sign language to guide him. Both were institutionalized in the mid-twentieth century, when people with disabilities were routinely shut off from society and left to languish without attention, forgotten.
One night, Lynnie and her sweetheart, Homan, escape. They find refuge in the farmhouse of the widow Martha, a retired schoolteacher. But the couple is not alone; Lynnie has just borne a child. The authorities catch up to them; Homan escapes into the darkness and Lynnie is caught. But just before she is gruffly taken back to The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, she utters two words to Martha: Hide her. And so begins the tale of three lives desperate to connect, yet kept apart by seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”
Thoughts: The Story of Beautiful Girl is a stunning story on the power of love and courage. Told through multiple viewpoints, each character showcases the horror of humanity right alongside its beautiful and splendor. Lynnie and Homan, Kate and Martha each find a way to creep into a reader’s soul, creating lasting impressions while highlighting the positive far-reaching impact one simple act of love and faith can have.
Ms. Simon’s study of the developmentally challenged or handi-capable is as beautiful as it is stunning. She does not shy away from the truth behind the old-fashioned methodologies of institutions. In fact, the name “School for the Incurable and Feebleminded” epitomizes the historical approach to anyone who did not fit into a psychiatric definition of “normal”. Given the holistic approach that currently exists today, such mindsets are as barbaric as they are antiquated. Yet, rather than sweep such stories under the rug, Ms. Simon uses Lynnie’s and Homan’s experiences to inform the public of what occurred, why it was wrong, and how to prevent such attitudes today. The Story of Beautiful Girl Is not preachy or bombastic. Rather, it is a subtle, delicately woven story of the different types of courage and intelligence that exist, no matter how one appears on the outside.
The Story of Beautiful Girl is not without its flaws. As Lynnie and Homan age and progress through their lives’ paths, the shifts in time become more abrupt and greater in detail. Entire decades are over within a matter of a few pages, which means that some of the story lines remain undeveloped. Julia’s story is the biggest example of a character who plays a large role in the overall storyline but on whom very few words are actually devoted to her point of view. Her untold story would have been the tie that binds the rest of the stories together. While it is not a drastic loss, there are enough unanswered questions about Julia’s story that prove bothersome to the reader.
Kate Reading, as the narrator, excels at distinguishing between the multiple viewpoints. More importantly, she handles the developmental differences between the characters with a delicacy that belies the words being said. While not the easiest novel to listen to, as the multiple characters and shifts in time and location tend to be rather abrupt and therefore confusing to a listener not paying attention, Ms. Reading distinguishes between the characters and shifts in time through the most understated tonality and inflections. Hers is a subtle performance, but her nuances make a greater impact on the reader.
The Story of Beautiful Girl is emotional and gorgeous in its simplicity. Ms. Simon’s words require the time and energy necessary to savor them, which does become problematic when listening to an audio production. After limiting the listening possibilities to those occasions that force the reader to pay close attention, the reader is rewarded with a story that leaves its mark on all those exposed to it. The Story of Beautiful Girl brings hope back to a society that has lost much of it due to an overriding cynicism about its fate. It is well worth the time and energy it takes to discover this gem of a novel.