2 Novels, 1 Memoir, and a Movie

Right off, you are going to meet 54-year-old Julianna who cannot figure out why the newspaper on the seat of her car is dated June 23, 1962.  She figures someone in the news office must have made an error since it was June 23, 1923.

In The Third Hill North of Town (2014) by Noah Bly, Julianna had managed to walk out of the state mental hospital’s dementia wing totally undetected.  Not only did she make it out free and clear, she found herself in a car that someone had carelessly left the keys in the ignition.  Two hours later and 90 miles from Bangor, Julianna manages to offer young Elijah hunter a ride.

Elijah is a very shy, anxious young man.  He had walked into town to mail a letter.  Just as he walks out of the drugstore, Julianna asks if he would like a rid home.  When he is convinced, he accepts a ride.  His life will never be the same.18-year-old Jon Tate’s world has taken an unexpected turn and deals with it by running away.  Jon and Elijah’s paths crossed on a rainy night in New Hampshire.

The two boys slowly come to the conclusion that Julianna is not operating in the same decade as they.  And she cannot understand why Elijah and Jon get upset.  Understand her mind is in 1923.  In reality it is 1962.

It turns out to be one crazy ride for the boys.  The two bond over the situation they find themselves in.  They also find themselves caring about Julianna.  If it was just the three of the on the road trip, it may have been a fun adventure.  It is when they discover police from Maine, New Hampshire, and every other state they enter, are following the, the tension on this trip ramps up.  Along with the tension, the violence and the language become what may be an issue for some readers.

All three are wanted by the police for different reasons.  The cross-country trip becomes a race to the third hill north of town.  Along the way unlikely friendships are forged.  The truth about who Julianna is and what happened in her past comes to light.

As I read this novel, I felt I was watching an action movie. It started out at a slow pace.  Once Julianna, Elijah, and Jon were introduced the adventure really went full speed ahead.

The Story of Beautiful Girl (2011) by Rachel Simon also involves an escape from an institution and chases by authorities.  But this novel is a more hopeful and gentler tale that begins in 1968 and covers the next 40 years.

Lynnie is an artistic, creative young white woman who is mentally disabled and has a difficulty with speech.  Her parents placed her in the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded when she was 8 years old.  Homan is African American and deaf.  He was dropped off at the “school” by the police because he could not answer their questions.  They assumed he was dumb. Lynnie and Homan met and fell in love.

These two young people make an escape from the institution.  It is not long before they are discovered missing and the hunt is on. Martha, a retired school teacher, widowed, opens her door one rainy night to find this young couple standing on her porch, soaking wet, hungry, and frightened.  Margaret not only opens her door to the two weary travelers but offers them sanctuary from the weather and along with compassion.

It was not long before there was another knock on the teacher’s door.  Lynnie (Beautiful Girl) manages to communicate “hide her” to Martha…meaning the newly born baby girl the couple had with them.  And, Martha does just that.  Thus, begins the story that follows these three, make that four, characters for decades.

The police arrived with workers from the “school”.  Homan manages an escape into the fields and woods.  Lynnie is put in a straightjacket and taken back to the place.  Lynnie pays for her escape by having extra security.  Homan is living a  dangerous life on the run as he tries to make his way back to the mental institution for Lynnie.  The baby?  Read the book.

I do not want to give too much away about what happens.  The Story of Beautiful Girl is both touching and heartbreaking at times.   Be sure to read the author’s notes and acknowledgments that follow.  I did as usual and it led to this very next book by the same author.  It is a true story about the author and her sister.

Once you meet Beth, make that Cool Beth, in Riding the Bus With my Sister (2012) by Rachel Simon, you will not forget her. Beth was not placed in a special school or institution by her family.

Beth is intellectually disabled, has a boyfriend, and lives independently.  She definitely has a mind of her own.  You can see that in the way she dresses: brightly colored, mismatching clothes, crazy t-shirts, and shorts in the winter.  It is her style and she could care less what others think of it.

Beth can be very stubborn at times, frustrating for others who try to encourage her to eat something other than the diet of junk food she prefers.  She says what is on her mind in a voice that is hard to miss if you are nearby.  Her social skills can be cringe worthy to those not used to spending time with her.

Rachel and Beth are less than a year apart in age, now in their 30s.  They could not be more different. Rachel is a professional and very busy.  Over the years Beth has become more of a obligation for Rachel.  With her work and travel it has become more difficult to find time to spend with Beth.  On one of those visits Beth asks (maybe challenges is a better word) Rachel to ride the bus with her for a year.  Rachel agreed.

Beth rides the bus six days a week.  Not the same bus daily.  She knows all the bus routes in her Pennsylvania city, knows the bus schedules and stops by heart, and knows all the drivers.  And the drivers all know her!  Beth has her favorites.

She has her routines down pat and they begin by waking early each morning to catch the bus.  That came as a shock to Rachel when she first started riding with Beth.  There was no changing Beth’s mind.

Rachel kept her promise to ride the bus with Beth once a month for a year.  She learned a lot about her sister on those rides.  For one thing, Beth has a better network of friends through her bus riding as opposed to Beth’s work colleagues

After 12 months of bus riding trips, Rachel begins to appreciate Beth more.  How Beth handles issues that come in her life. The challenges she meets head on, such as people she meets on the bus rides.  Not everyone is sympathetic towards Beth, especially some of the advice she offers freely.   About her daily life.  She feels more connected to Beth which is may be why Beth issued the bus riding challenge in the first place.

I so enjoyed getting to know Beth.  I also learned there is a movie version of Riding the Bus with My Sister.  My suggestion is to read this book before you see the movie.  I think you will appreciate the movie and Beth by knowing her story first.

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