The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
A book dedicated to “those who were put away.”
We all have our own lighthouses – most are invisible to others. If in our safe place we are in a room of echoes, we realize the world is so much larger than we are.
The shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut assumed they were not in harm’s way, but they were wrong. Gunshots reverberated inside their lighthouse that day. In a tribute to the children, teachers, and their families, we offered a moment of silence while reciting their names in between the stanzas of “God Bless America.” May they all rest in the arms of angels.
26 Bookers braved the weather to meet at the home of Mary Jacob to discuss this month’s selection, The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon, reviewed by Gail Fankhauser. As Lynnie, one of the main characters, pointed out in the book, “A rainy day is better than no day” and she was right. We erred on the side of caution when our original host, Daryl Daniels, received a summons to fulfill her civic duty in Federal Court in Tyler. Many thanks to Mary for coming to the rescue and opening her home for our meeting. Kay Robinson brought a special guest, her “beautiful girl” – granddaughter, Riley, who said all the right things…she couldn’t wait to join a book club, loved the review, wanted to read the book…and even complimented us on how organized and orderly we were. Give us a guest and we find ourselves on our best behavior! MN apologizes to the group for her late arrival…in her mind, inexcusable except when it comes to her sister, Dianne. We are all a little more forgiving!
Gail Fankhauser’s first review since joining Bookers treated us with her perceptiveness gained through all her years of teaching and her passion for the story fell on every word. The author’s personal experience drove the story as her sister, intellectually challenged, was not “put away” as others were not as fortunate. Ms. Simon masterfully intertwines the lives of the four main characters giving them all hope, something to hang on to until their lives changed for the better.
Lynnie, a white child diagnosed with developmental disabilities, was eight when her childhood ceased. It was the day her parents “enrolled” her in the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. She spent twenty-three locked inside – the walls and her being. Homan, an African-American deaf man, referred to as John Doe # 42, also incarcerated in the “snare of stonewalls,” emerged from his own darkness to bring light to Lynnie’s soul. She called him Buddy and when they kissed in the cornfields, “everything in the world dropped away…it lasted a lifetime and when they pulled back a red feather drifted down from the sky and came to rest between their chests.” Homan lived by his brother’s philosophies and instilled them in Lynnie…Don’t let anyone treat you differently because you have a disability…Don’t let anything break you, not even yourself…If you go in the ring know who your jabber is.
Martha Zimmer was a retired schoolteacher. Recently widowed, living an “ordinary day” in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania until there is a knock on her door. She opens to find Lynnie and Homan with a newborn baby. They’ve escaped from the School. Her mailbox with a little metal lighthouse topped with the head of a man signaled a safe haven for the couple, until the authorities arrive. Homan escapes. The baby is hidden in the attic. Lynnie is being taken “home.” Two words change Martha’s life forever. “Hide her.” This begins a forty-year journey that no one anticipated, but Martha takes the responsibility of raising this child relying on all those who love her to fill in the blanks of “motherhood.” She names her Julia and journals her story so she will discover her history and in the end, Julia finds a hero in her Grammie, Martha.
Kate, Lynnie’s attendant and friend at the School recognized her as not “an upper division imbecile” and secured her promotion to the “moron cottage.” Lynnie now had a guardian angel. Kate treated her as a person…she encouraged her narrative illustrations through her artwork, kept her secrets, protected her, and triumphed in Lynnie’s confidence and journey into the “normal” world knowing that she had a hand in the person she became.
A fifty-foot glass mosaic entitled Dreams of Hope in the lobby of a Washington office building was the link bringing Lynnie, Homan, and Julia together. We witnessed the “vulnerability of Lynnie’s soul – she was the child who couldn’t stay with her family, the mother who couldn’t keep her child, and the woman who’d waited a lifetime for a man who could never return” but in the Poseidon lighthouse on the Jersey shore they found each other and the one they lost. “There are two kinds of hope – the kind you can’t do anything about and the kind you can” This story ends with a beginning. “Can you imagine a better day than this?” Didn’t you just want to stand up and cheer!
Floating feathers are interspersed throughout the novel as well as the inside and back covers. Lynnie kept them safe in her treasure “pouch.” Their colors significant…a bouquet of white – innocence, brown – respect, blue – peace, yellow – cheerfulness, green – health, and her favorite – red denoting physical vitality and good fortune. The back cover shows a child’s arm reaching for a floating black feather. Was it mother or daughter trying to grasp the mystical wisdom that comes with spiritual evolution – or both? Feathers symbolically represent virtues, hope for a better life and the courage it takes to reach higher.
Our discussion focused on the mental health crisis in this country and the world as a whole and with different philosophies aired, we concurred that the system is broken leaving a vast majority of the sufferers few options. We must change our perception when other’s challenges are different than our own. While the book pointed out the cruelty and unthinkable conditions in which residents of the “homes” lived, when these crimes of their incarceration surfaced, many still had nowhere to go and no one to care. We spoke of the positive influences a sibling can have if he or she makes the effort to set an example of how to live as Blue did for Homan. We were curious as to the degree of Lynnie’s retardation – we innately need to put a name to a disease – not that it makes it easier to digest, just easier to process. We talked about lobotomies as the standard treatment for mental illness in the not so distant past – we’ve come a long way, but apparently not far enough. Non-verbal communication, body language, was at the forefront of this novel as it was for some their only language of expression. Along those same lines, it’s important to recognize how our four-legged furry friends can help heal a broken soul.
Cherry reported delivering Bookers’ gift of No Easy Day to John Tucker. He was thrilled and touched by the gesture.
Bernie C. received Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn for Christmas and loves it…very interesting and very different. Several of our members have read it and concur describing it as bizarre…good but difficult to read. It would be color-coded Red and the consensus was to include it on our recommended reading list instead of a Bookers’ selection.
Melba came across a simple test to predict life expectancy. Two thousand people between 51-80 participated in the study. The test requires sitting on the floor and rising using the minimum amount of aid – a knee, hand, arm, or elbow to get up. The more support you need the lower the score. She thought it would be of particular interest to those who are comfortable on the lower levels of a room!
My favorite author, the one that lit the fire and started me on my journey to write my novel, Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge, will be releasing her new novel, The Burgess Boys at the end of March AND will be appearing at the Dallas Museum of Arts on April 15th, 7:30 PM, 1717 North Harwood, Dallas. Tickets are $35.00 for adults and you can order on-line at www.dma.org or call 214-922-1818. I’ve pre-ordered the book and have a ticket in hand to see my “idol” in person.
Dallas author, Kathleen Kent, will be appearing at the Cain Center on Friday, April 12th to discuss her historical novel, The Heretic’s Daughter, about the Salem Witch trials. This is the event sponsored by four Athens’ book clubs benefitting the Henderson County Library. This is a unique opportunity to lunch with a local author and hear her story. We have monthly discussions as to what constitutes a Bookers’ book, and having read this one, we both feel its scope is too narrow for the majority of our members. It’s a very tedious read but one that would certainly appeal to fans of period historical fiction. MN and I are going to try to attend and we would like a volunteer to coordinate tickets and carpooling for the group. THIS WILL COUNT AS YOUR REVIEW. Please let me know if you would like to take advantage of this “off-the-hook-offer.”
MN and I were disappointed that so few people read the December book selections, which brings up the continuous discussion of books amid the social environment. A column in Dear Abby spoke to this issue and their solution was to do either or. I could hear Yoo-Hooing coming from someone to my right…anyway, here’s our thoughts…Our group is thankfully filled with former teachers who look at a reading assignment as a homework assignment. If it’s not done, there is a penalty for not completing the work. We don’t want to look at Bookers’ books as homework. We want you to embrace the magic books have to offer. When we have a majority in attendance, who have not read the book, our penalty is the discussion suffers and that affects all of us, not to mention the disregard for the person who has volunteered to review the selection. We don’t want to get on a soapbox on this issue, just ask that you make the effort. We all benefit from our varied views and opinions on our books and we relish that input from all of you! For now, everything will remain the same and again thanks for hearing us out.
We’ve got another round of books on the horizon as possible selections for April. We’ll keep you posted.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
February 12th: The Good Dream by Donna Van Liere
Home of Janet (Kitty) Erwin
Reviewer: Jean Alexander
March 12th: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Home of Charlotte Pechacek
April 9th: Home of MN Stanky
May 7th: 6th Annual Wine & Cheese Evening Meeting
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet, Jamie Ford
Home of Melanie Prebis
Reviewer: Pat Faherty
*** Note change of date
Summer Break June, July & August
Remember Lynnie held dear a pouch of her “precious objects, a plastic blue horse with a green mane from her sister, a shoestring from her Daddy’s shoes, a lucky charm bracelet from her Mommy to wear when she was a big girl, and of course the feathers from Buddy. What would you put in your pouch? Mine would definitely have a penny and a glass egg, a ballpoint pen, an image of Aretha my loaner guardian angel, an Aloha necklace, and…