Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book Review: Riding the Bus with My Sister

This was our book club pick for June, selected by me because I absolutely adored Rachel Simon's Story of Beautiful Girl. Riding the Bus with My Sister is Simon's story of a year she spent reconnecting with her sister, a mentally challenged woman who spends her days, well,  riding the bus.

As the story opens, Simon is moved by guilt and obligation to visit her sister Beth, who lives alone in mid-sized town in Pennsylvania, a couple hours away from Simon. They are both in their late 30s and have left behind a difficult and at times dangerous childhood. Their parents, though divorced, clung to one family mantra: Beth will never be institutionalized.

Simon and her siblings see Beth's life as wasteful and depressing. All day, every day, Beth hops on one bus after another, riding around the city and, as they see it, annoying people. They want her to get a job or volunteer—to do something. But riding the buses is Beth's world, and when Rachel visits her sister, she is issued a challenge: ride the bus with Beth for one year.

At first Rachel, a dedicated workaholic, balks: she doesn't have time for this nonsense. But something nudges her to say yes, and so she heads over to Beth's one day each month to spend 12 hours riding the buses. And in the course of the year, Rachel discovers who her sister really is—and finds out a lot about herself, as well.

The story alternates between vignettes of the bus drivers—men and women whom Beth has carefully selected as the most caring, sensitive people; flashbacks from Beth and Rachel's tumultuous childhood; Rachel's own adult life; and Rachel's discovery of who Beth really is.

It's all done beautifully and with great honesty. I loved every part of this book, although I had to devour it quickly in order to have it read in time for our book club discussion. This was a fantastic choice for our book club, although our discussion was rather limited as we conducted it in a noisy restaurant! I'm going to spend this evening watching the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie based on the book—and then I'm hoping I can find more books written by Rachel Simon!