Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
We don't typically make a practice of "discovering" a writer twice. In fact, we have a rule about such things. In Rachel Simon's case, we were caught by surprise. She was originally "discovered" in 1994 for her novel The Magic Touch, but her new publisher was unaware of her Discover distinction when submitting her memoir for consideration. It was so enthusiastically received by our reading group that we forgot to check to see if her previous work had run the Discover gauntlet. Eventually, we learned that it had; but Riding the Bus with My Sister was just too good for us to pass up, even if we're not "discovering" this talented writer for the very first time.
In her late 30s, Rachel Simon made a decision to end one relationship and to reconsider another. Unattached and work-obsessed, with a single-minded focus on "becoming a Somebody who would live a Big Life," Simon came to realize she'd erected barriers around herself, creating little room for others. But during a visit to her mentally retarded sister, Beth, a challenge is issued, and Rachel reluctantly makes a commitment -- to "ride the bus" with her sister for one year, recording her experiences.
With candor and newfound wisdom, gleaned both from her sister's straightforward and childlike approach to life, and surprisingly from the numerous bus drivers themselves (!), Simon alternates her bus-riding adventures with memories of her family's life. The resulting memoir is a touching journey to a richer, more meaningful life, and a story with a universal appeal.
(Fall 2002 Selection)
This perceptive, uplifting chronicle shows how much Simon, a creative writing professor at Bryn Mawr College, had to learn from her mentally retarded sister, Beth, about life, love and happiness. Beth lives independently and is in a long-term romantic relationship, but perhaps the most surprising thing about her, certainly to her (mostly) supportive family, is how she spends her days riding buses. Six days a week (the buses don't run on Sundays in her unnamed Pennsylvania city), all day, she cruises around, chatting up her favorite drivers, dispensing advice and holding her ground against those who find her a nuisance. Rachel joined Beth on her rides for a year, a few days every two weeks, in an attempt to mend their distanced relationship and gain some insight into Beth's daily life. She wound up learning a great deal about herself and how narrowly she'd been seeing the world. Beth's community within the transit system is a much stronger network than the one Rachel has in her hectic world, and some of the portraits of drivers and the other people in Beth's life are unforgettable. Rachel juxtaposes this with the story of their childhood, including the dissolution of their parents' marriage and the devastating abandonment by their mother, the effect of which is tied poignantly to the sisters' present relationship. Although she is honest about the frustrations of relating to her stubborn sister, Rachel comes to a new appreciation of her, and it is a pleasure for readers to share in that discovery. Agent, Anne Edelstein. (Aug. 26) Forecast: A blurb from Rosie O'Donnell and an author tour should pique women readers' interest. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Adult/High School-When she received an invitation to her mentally retarded sister's annual Plan of Care review, Simon realized that this was Beth's way of attempting to bring her back into her life. Beth challenged the author to give a year of her life to riding "her" buses with her. Even though Simon didn't know where it would take her, she accepted. During that time, she came to see her sister as a person in her own right with strong feelings about how she wanted to live her life, despite what others thought. Not everyone on the buses, drivers or passengers, liked or even tolerated Beth, and it shamed the author to realize that she sometimes felt the same way about her sibling. As the year passed, Simon came to the realization that "No one can be a good sister all the time. I can only try my best. Just because I am not a saint does not mean that I am a demon." The time together became a year of personal discovery, of acceptance, and of renewed sibling love and closeness. Clear writing and repeated conversations allow readers to hear the voices of both sisters. There is much to mull over, to enjoy, and to savor in this book.-Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Family relationships and forgiveness converge in this true-life chronicle by novelist Simon (The Magic Touch, 1994) of a year that gave her better understanding of her mentally retarded sister. Beth Simon has ridden buses for years. Not the way most people do, to get from point A to point B, but "a dozen a day, some for five minutes, others for hours." When hyper-busy, thirtysomething Rachel comes for a visit, Beth asks for a holiday gift: for one year, several times a month, her sister will ride the buses with her. Reluctantly, Rachel agrees. Over the course of the year, she slowly comes to appreciate Beth's ingenuity and stops viewing her solely as a burden. The author gracefully avoids sounding preachy or didactic; she reveals herself to be at times supremely frustrated with her sister's behavior. ("On seventeen buses, over twelve hours, Beth's talk brims with spite about the brutes she encounters. . . . Her babble is unceasing, booming, and unvarying from bus to bus.") The real heroes here are the drivers, who include Beth in family outings, visit her in the hospital, encourage her to try new things, provide her with stability and human connections absent in her highly dysfunctional family. Rachel begins to see that her own life consists of nothing but work; she shut out friends and lovers long ago. This realization, along with Beth's helpful matchmaking ("I wAnt to havE a driver as a BrothEr in law," she writes), leads to a significant relationship. Rachel's reflections on her own life are interspersed with memories of a far-from-ideal childhood: undiagnosed depression exacerbated by Beth's condition toppled their mother, who took up with a violent ex-con after a nasty divorce. Thethree disparate narratives come together quite well and leave the reader cheering for a reconciliation between the sisters and the rest of the family.
A heartwarming, life-affirming journey through both the present and the past... Read this book. It might just change your life.Boston Herald
An amazing book... It touched my soul.Rosie O'Donnell
Clear writing and repeated conversations allow readers to hear the voices of both sisters. There is much to mull over, to enjoy, and to savor in this book.
School Library Journal
This perceptive, uplifting chronicle shows how much Simon, a creative writing professor at Bryn Mawr College, had to learn from her mentally retarded sister, Beth, about life, love and happiness.... Rachel juxtaposes this with the story of their childhood, including the dissolution of their parents' marriage and the devastating abandonment by their mother, the effect of which is tied poignantly to the sisters' present relationship. Although she is honest about the frustrations of relating to her stubborn sister, Rachel comes to a new appreciation of her, and it is a pleasure for readers to share in that discovery.Publishers Weekly
A heartwarming, life-affirming journey through both the present and the past... Read this book. It might just change your life.
An amazing book... It touched my soul.