The Friday Morning Bookclub read, and enjoyed, The Story of Beautiful Girl. The novel takes place in 1968 and the main characters are Lynnie, a developmentally delayed white woman of Jewish origin, Homan, an African American deaf man from the South, and Martha, a retired school teacher and widow. Lynnie and Homan met in an institution for the “feeble minded” in Pennsylvania. Lynnie was placed there at a young age by her parents who felt it would be best for the family to not have this kind of child in their lives. There is background story revolving around her parents’ decision, the continued feeling of Lynnie for her sister, and some reintegration into her sister’s life later in the book. Homan came to the institution as a result of life forces in the 60s, of being black, deaf and unable to talk. He is portrayed as a large, muscular man, capable of deep feelings and thoughts but lacking the ability to communicate as he does not know braille or American sign language, but rather a slang version he shared with his family, and later Lynnie. Homan and Lynnie fall in love.
The institution is portrayed stereotypically with mostly poor care and lack of oversight which one night was taken to extremes resulting in Lynnie’s rape and subsequent pregnancy. Lynnie keeps the pregnancy hidden and escapes one night in her 9th month with Homan, who delivers the baby. In need of a place to stay, and mindful that the institution is looking for them, Homan and Lynnie choose Martha’s door to knock on because Lynnie likes the lighthouse mailbox. Although the authorities find and retake Lynnie, Homan manages to escape. The authorities do not realize there was a baby. Thus begins the story of Martha, baby Julia , Lynnie and Homan over the next 30 ish years.
Our bookclub thought the story was well written and drew us into the characters lives. Each life was vastly affected, and greatly changed by acts of human kindness. Lynnie has a caregiver at the institution who takes special interest in her, encourages her artwork, keeps her secret and stays close with her throughout her life. The caregivers’ life is also enriched by this experience. Martha, who decides to keep the baby safe and becomes her parent receives great assistance from her past students and her life takes unexpected twists with great rewards. Homan, through his strength and caring ways, effects a wheel-chaired bound young man who later finds Homan and opens the door to sign language and Homan’s potential. We found the book to be an emotional read…maybe a tad slow at some points, and a tad unbelievable as loose ends were neatly tied, but nevertheless all of us finished the book, enjoyed it, and found many discussion points.