My Thoughts on Rachel Simon, The Story of Beautiful Girl

Title: The Story of Beautiful Girl
Author: Rachel Simon
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hatchette)
Date: 2011
Genre: Literary Fiction

282 pages.
Where I got it: Net Galley from the publisher
Challenges: None

I hope people read this book.  I could pretty much just leave my review at that, since it is most of what I want to say about it, but I suppose I should qualify my statement.  Rachel Simon's book is a good read, not the best read of the year for me, but maybe the most important.  The Story of Beautiful Girl is the story of the state of mental health care in the United States.  More specifically, it is the story of Lynnie and Homan, two residents of "The School" a residential home for the developmentally disabled in the 1960's.  Homan is deaf, and although he has no mental disabilities, he is institutionalized because he is unable to communicate.  The book begins when Homan and Lynnie run away one rainy night, and the rest of the book is the journey, for a number of characters, that grows out of that original escape.  New narrative voices grow and branch out until the story is complete, like a full grown tree.

I am currently working on a novel in third person, with more than one narrative voice and understand the challenges of that type of writing.  I think that Simon handled the narrative well, for something so chronologically expansive and multi-voiced.  The voice I grew most attached to throughout the narrative was Lynnie's, although the one I found most authentic was Homan's.  Although their voices were the strongest in the narrative, the other characters were essential as well.  The story is as much about the Marthas (the woman who took in the runaways and found herself an advocate for the institutionalized) and Kates (a sympathetic employee at "The School") as it is about the Lynnies and the Homans.  In the end, the book is about triumph over an oppressive system, but also a warning about what can, and did, happen.

As a reader that loves to read about reading (whew!), I also enjoyed the suggestion that storytelling is a powerful tool that appears again and again throughout the text.   In one of the early chapters, Kate encourages Lynnie to tell her a story using drawings.  During this experience, Lynnie realizes for the first time:
A book wasn't something you could open anywhere and then flip to anywhere else.  You opened it at the front and went forward, and the pages went from one to the next, each adding to the last, and the story grew more exciting with each page.  It was like the way corn grew from the seen that got planted in spring to the tall rows you hid inside in the fall. A story grew.

As the narrative goes on, and this story grows, all the characters learn ways to tell their stories, and the reader is along for the emotional and educational ride. 


  1. That sounds like an interesting book, I like the focus being on mental health. Is it a bit like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?.

  2. Thanks for the review. I recently received the book and have not yet read it, and I love the cover.

  3. @Tiny Library: I've only read part of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but from what I can tell they are pretty different. This book takes place only partly in an institution.

    @Jennifer: I hope you enjoy it. The cover is beautiful.

  4. Love the quote! This book sounds wonderful. I love books that try to focus on a problem that has been pushed aside. I like that the author uses storytelling as a way for the characters to communicate, especially in a world that doesn't seem to listen to them. Great review!

  5. The cover of this book caught my eye at the bookstore but I never picked it up. It sounds really interesting, and I love that quote.

    Just found your blog and am enjoying your reviews!

  6. @Jenna: Yeah, I thought this book handled the issue of mental health really well, while still having a great story and strong characters.

    @Rayna: It's a good one. Welcome to the blog and thanks for stopping by.

  7. That sounds like an interesting book. I can't believe it people get institutionalised just for not being able to communicate easily!

    Thanks for the review.

  8. @Leewammes: I know. I read an interview with the author and she says that the book is based on a story she read about a deaf man who couldn't speak, sign or write and so he was institutionalized.


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