04 May 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey by Rachel Simon

I love the premise of this book, but I was a little fearful of how the author was going to carry this off. I find it’s sometimes hard to write/read a memoir that centers around someone other than the author directly. I’ve honestly rarely seen it done very well. Ms. Simon pulled it off in spades.

The interesting thing for me is that I went into this expecting a quirky book about her travels around (and around) a city with her mentally disabled sister. I expected laughs and a few tears. What I didn’t expect was to come with a newfound respect for those who work with people with mental retardation on a daily basis. I wasn’t expecting to learn so much about what daily life is like for someone like Beth and those who surround her. I wasn’t expecting to gain so much respect for the people that step in and love her for who she is and not treat her differently just because she’s different.

Where the author excelled beyond my expectations, however, was how she wove Beth into this book around her life. I felt that I was reading about her life – yes, Beth was a big part of that, but I never felt like it was all about Beth. It was more about how she grew up with Beth and how she came to get to know her and her life better. Along the way, we learn more about Rachel and her life is about.

What I really liked about the format of this book is that it goes back and forth between their adulthood and their childhood. I felt like it gave us greater insight into the author and her sister. I was also surprised by not only the author’s self-awareness, but also Beth’s self-awareness. While she definitely needs ongoing help, the fact that she’s managed to drill out a life for herself (no, a life she enjoys) amazes me.

Ya know. At the end of the day, this one had some laughs for me, it had lots of heartwarming stories about the drivers and those who surround Beth. I will admit that the author made me upset a few times. I was mad at her and how she felt and how she reacted to certain events. I also cried with her a few times. Ultimately, I wanted to give her a big hug and thank her for sharing this beautiful story with us.

This one goes on my must read list and is recommended not only for the obvious memoir fans but for anyone that wants to learn a little something… either about the system or maybe even about themselves. I know this book will stick with me the next time I encounter someone “like Beth”. I chose this for my book club and I look forward to hearing about what my friends though as well.

Rachel Simon’s sister Beth is a spirited woman who lives intensely and often joyfully. Beth, who has mental retardation, spends her days riding the buses in her Pennsylvania city. The drivers, a lively group, are her mentors; her fellow passengers are her community. One day, Beth asked Rachel to accompany her on the buses for an entire year. This wise, funny, deeply affecting book is the chronicle of that remarkable time. Rachel, a writer and college teacher whose hyperbusy life camouflaged her emotional isolation, had much to learn in her sister’s extraordinary world. These are life lessons from which every reader can profit: how to live in the moment, how to pay attention to what really matters, how to change, how to love—and how to slow down and enjoy the ride.
Elegantly woven throughout the odyssey are riveting memories of terrifying maternal abandonment, fierce sisterly loyalty, and astonishing forgiveness. Rachel Simon brings to light the almost invisible world of mental retardation, finds unlikely heroes in everyday life, and, without sentimentality, portrays Beth as the endearing, feisty, independent person she is. This heartwarming book about the unbreakable bond between two very different sisters takes the reader on an inspirational journey at once unique and universal. 

Rating: ★★★★☆

Book count for 2011: 27

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