“This much she knew: She had begun to change last night. She had climbed to the attic, and sat beside the baby, and thought, I am all you have now. And she’d felt an opening in her chest where she hadn’t known anything was closed.” Rachel Simon, THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL
Rachel Simon’s THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL is 340 pages and was first published in 2011 in hardcover. It is now out in paperback, and was recommended to me by my critique partner, Jennifer Lyn King. She must know me very well, indeed, because I enjoyed it thoroughly.
The novel begins on a night in 1968, when a widow, alone in her farmhouse, meets two strangers at her door. The mute white woman and the deaf African-American man are on the run, and clearly frightened. The widow, Martha, soon learns that the young woman, Lynnie, has just given birth to a baby girl, and as the authorities from the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded come to take them back to the institution, Lynnie is able to utter two words to Martha that forever change all of their worlds:
THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL spans the next four decades as Martha responds to a call that asks so much more of her than she ever thought herself capable. It traces the lives of those who were institutionalized in the sixties and beyond, who were often treated poorly, and who sometimes had far more intelligence and ability than their caretakers understood. It shows the tests and triumphs of adversity, and the results of a lifetime of hope.
Like Martha, the reader will feel the expansion of her heart and capacity for empathy and understanding growing while she reads the novel. THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL is one of those rare books that while portraying human darkness, stunningly illustrates the capacity we have to love. This book broke and healed my heart many times over, and I was left with a new understanding of those with developmental disabilities or differences that has changed me.
I can’t overstate how much our society needs books like THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL. In this culture of death, violence, and the objectification of human persons, novels like this that touch the reader on such an emotional level have real power to heal broken places in our world. If you have not yet read this outstanding work of fiction, I highly recommend THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL.