I picked up this book because the summary intrigued me.
It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African-American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feeble-minded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: “Hide her.” And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia-lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.
The story is so much more than this. It takes us to a time when disabilities were frowned upon, people with disabilities were to be hidden away, disowned, and left in institutions where they were treated in less than human conditions. Lynnie and Homan live in one such institution called ‘The School’. Lynnie had development difficulties while Homan is deaf and just a number for the authorities. Both of them become friends, fall in love and escape. Unknown to the authorities at ‘The School’, Lynnie is pregnant and she knows that she has to keep her child hidden if she doesn’t want the child to have the same fate as her. Luckily for them, when the baby is born, Martha, a retired school teacher is the one who they end up handing over the child.
For the next several years, Martha, spent the time hiding, moving from place to place, to ensure that Baby Julia is hidden and safe. The story is told from the view points of the three characters, Martha, Homan and Lynnie. It is a touching and heart breaking tale. It makes you wonder how as a society we could be so unfeeling. How was it so easy to discard people, just because they were different. The way the inmates of ‘The School’ were treated, the horrors that went on in the School and probably, other institutions like that, makes for a heart breaking read.
Martha, has her own troubles hiding Julia, but she has a close relationship of trust with some of her former students and that helps her. Reading the story from each of their view points adds to the charm of the book. Especially when it is Lynnie and Homan telling their part of it. The experience of being on the fringes of society, of not being the norm, and the feeling of being totally alone is a heart breaking read. It boggles my mind to think how society could be this cruel!
It is a wonderful book. It gives an insight into how society worked in those days. How people who deviated from the norms would be literally removed from the society. The touching story of courage, love, and hope that each of them had, despite the odds facing them I would give it a 4.5/5.
About the author
Rachel Simon is an American author of both fiction and non-fiction. She has six books to her credit. This was her debut book. She has won numerous awards and recognition for her work.
I, for one, would be looking to pick up more of her books.
On a side note, does anyone know how it was in India, for those with development difficulties in those days?