On a night like any other in the 1960s, a mysterious couple turns up on Martha’s doorstep. Both are disabled; the man Homan cannot speak or hear, while the woman Lynnie, the most beautiful Martha has ever seen, appears unable to talk. They are refugees from a nearby mental institution, and they’re not alone; they have a baby with them, a baby that clearly does not belong to Homan. Within minutes, the police are after them, and Lynnie and Homan are about to spend years of their lives trying to find their independence in a society that hides and suppresses anyone with the slightest disability. Meanwhile, Martha is left with their small burden, to her an unspeakably precious gift, that she must help grow up safe and undiscovered.
I’ve heard a lot of praise floating around about this book already and I have to admit that all of it was completely warranted. This was an amazing book which has stuck with me; it’s taken me ages to review it but as soon as I started thinking of the story again it all popped back into my mind freshly. It’s partly because the characters are so vivid, with so many problems and no way to really solve them. They struggle and, frankly, sometimes they fail, but sometimes they succeed.
The core of the story is the struggle that both Lynnie and Homan go through as they try and break free of the stereotypes surrounding people with disabilities in the mid twentieth century. Both of them have endured the rigors of a mental institution, a place called The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. They’ve survived the systemic abuse that plagued these places, the complete lack of understanding or care, but they have to keep on going to try and find ways to adjust eventually to living in the real world. They have demons to conquer, and while they do have assistance through people like the kind-hearted attendant Kate, it’s not a simple task.
It’s that journey which really made this entire book for me, as I found both of their individual stories to be incredibly touching and moving.It’s so hard to believe these places still existed only fifty years ago, and while I would hope for care to be substantially better these days, it is a worthwhile reminder of how easily people who need help and encouragement can instead be abused. I loved the characters of both Lynnie and Homan.
The least interesting part of the story for me was Martha’s journey with the infant Julia, Lynnie’s daughter. This story takes us up until Julia is fourteen and had less of an impact on me overall. It’s easy to understand why Martha hides her, because if the institution found her she would probably end up in the same situation as her mother. But as time goes on, I just didn’t find their narrative as affecting, and that was probably the only downside of the book for me.
Overall, though, The Story of Beautiful Girl is a beautifully written story of the struggles that disabled people must endure. The author’s sister is disabled, and the passion with which she writes really helped me feel she knew what she was talking about and could give me an experience I’ll never have on my own, but one which is most certainly worth understanding. Highly recommended.
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