Riding the Bus With My Sister: a True Life Journey
Author: Rachel Simon
Publisher: Penguin 2003
Paperback Edition: 293 pages
Source: Library copy
This memoir does not oversimplify the complexity of any life, and certainly not the life of a person with cognitive challenge/mental retardation. The reader gains insight into the life of Beth, a woman with a mild mental disability. She eventually lives independently. She spends her days riding the buses in her mid-sized Pennsylvania city. Readers learn about her family and her complicated relationship with a sister close in age, the author. The book traces growth and change over time.
It cuts away the sentimentality that so often accompanies stories of people with mental disability. This author provides specificity and detail for the people involved in Beth’s life. This includes many from the larger community. One of this story’s revelations was the extent of support Beth received from those in her community. She was valued for herself and not for her behaviors.
Beth has strong abilities. She is a problem-solver. She irritates when she repeatedly gets in the face of those around her. She often demonstrates her stubbornness. Like most of us, she has many facets to her personality and capabilities.
In spite of trauma and hardship, this is a heartwarming story. My faith in humankind is bolstered. My admiration for this writer who willingly exposes her own shortcomings to communicate the strength of love for her sister grew stronger as my reading progressed. There are strong emotions exposed in the telling of this story and strong emotions aroused in the reader. I learned much, though I have lived much of my life with a son with mental disability.
This memoir will be discussed at an upcoming book club meeting. Without its status as a book club pick, I would not have read this book, thinking I had read as much as I cared to about disability and pathology. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on this reading experience. There is little sugarcoating in this story. It holds tenderness, anger and heartbreak along with a tight brave love. Thank you to this family, those around Beth and this author for sharing their story.