Riding the bus with my sister : a true life journey /

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Main Author: Simon, Rachel, 1959-
Format: Book
Published:Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

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. The three disparate narratives come together quite well and leave the reader cheering for a reconciliation between the sisters and the rest of the family.

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