Monday, May 30, 2011

The Story of Beautiful Girl

"The Story of Beautiful Girl" written by Rachel Simon, the author of "Riding the Bus with My Sister" tells the story of Lynnie, a beautiful, young white woman with developmental disabilities and Homan, a deaf black man, better known as Number Forty-two to the guards at the Pennsylvania State School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. On a cold, rainy night in November 1968, Lynnie and Homan recently escaped from the school, arrive at the doorstep of Martha Zimmer, a widowed retired schoolteacher. At first apprehensive to allow the strange pair into her home, Martha takes pity on the desperate couple and shows them all the compassion they've been lacking in their life. Martha quickly realizes they are in fact not alone, they have a newborn baby with them. Unfortunately, shortly after their arrival at Martha's home, the authorities from the school track them down, and while Homan escapes into the night, Lynnie is sadly captured and taken into custody to be returned to the school. As Martha observes the silent Lynnie, she takes in the beautiful green eyes and curly golden hair, and despite the claims by the cruel guard that she's an idiot, Martha senses otherwise. As Lynnie is goaded into thanking Martha for her kindness, she leans in and whispers into Martha's ear two simple words, "hide her," for she knows the doctor and guards are oblivious to the presence of the baby girl that she and Homan had tenderly placed in the widow's attic just minutes before the guards arrival. As Lynnie is ushered away, Martha says "Lynnie, I will," and with that vow so begins the saga that spans forty plus years, which follows the life of Lynnie, Homan, Martha and baby Julia.

As the story progresses, we learn of Lynnie's story and how at the young age of eight she had been separated from her beloved Nah-nah (Hannah), her sister, and left by her parents at the school. We meet her friend Kate, an attendant at the school, and the only staff member to show Lynnie kindness and believe that she isn't as limited as the school believes. For years, Kate had nurtured Lynnie's artistic talent by giving her the supplies to draw as well as hiding those drawings from other school staff, and it's through her drawings that Lynnie communicates the events of that fateful night to Kate, who keeps Lynnie's secret. Through it all, we read of Martha's steps to fulfill her promise to Lynnie, and how she relies on a network of past students to help her both hide Julia, as well as raise her.

I really enjoyed the story, it was beautiful and touching. The story arc is slightly unrealistic, though I guess not any more so than any of the romance novels I read. The novel is structured so that each chapter focuses on one individual's life during a specific year. The story begins with the widow in 1968 and ends with Julia in 2011. One downside to the novel was that given the large span of time covered, there were understandably quite a few gaps in time in the story. For example, we read about Martha in 1973 but her next chapter picks up with her and Julia's story in 1983. When I think about it though, I guess my one complaint is a compliment in disguise, because it speaks to the fact that the story and the characters were compelling enough to make me want to know more about each of their lives.

Lastly, an interesting feature of the storyline was the incorporation of the real media awakening which took place in the early 1970's to the horrors taking place in institutions like the fictional one featured in the novel. As noted in Ms. Simon's author's note, it was 1972 when Geraldo Rivera aired a horrifying story on the atrocities taking place at Willowbrook State School. The novel does well in covering how far we, as a society, have come in our treatment of people with developmental and mental disabilities and the care offered in institutions, though sadly, in many countries some of these iniquities still take place.

Little Help, Big Difference

On May 22, 2011, Joplin Missouri was devastated by a tornado which decimated the community and forever changed the city's residents lives and memories to a before and after that tragic date. had a compelling photo essay featuring the amazing photographs of Aaron Fuhrman. Using screen grabs from Google's street views and Mr. Furhman's photos, they documented a heart-wrenching before and after view of this one American city.

This is the same street before and after May 22nd. The after photo with its scarred landscape, crumbling buildings and scarce human activity has an eery almost post-apocalyptic look to it.

For some reason, more than the countless hours of coverage dedicated to this tragedy on the nightly news, these photos compelled me to donate funds to one of the many organizations on the ground in Joplin which are offering food and shelter to the homeless victims. I donated to the American Red Cross, but if you'd prefer another organization, you can visit the official Missouri State website which offers a list of reputable organizations you can donate to or where you can volunteer. Every little bit of help, every penny, every dollar, can make a big difference, especially if we all participate. If your financial situation is prohibitive of even the smallest of monetary donations, then please let your prayers be your donation for I'm sure they are very much needed.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


After what seemed an endless round of Seattle-like weather, my brother decided to take advantage of a lull in the rain to finally cut the grass at his home. He started his lawn mower, and quickly stopped, as a dead mouse fell out from the undercarriage of the machine. The poor little mouse had obviously taken residence in the recently unused machine. The story would normally end there, but for the fact, that attached to the dead mouse's nipple was a little baby mouse still trying to suckle. So begins the story of Lucky.

As my brother realized the little baby mouse, quickly named Lucky, was still alive, his guilt at having accidentally made Lucky an orphan prompted him to bring him inside and try to keep him alive, and that's how I spent last weekend trying to feed and keep a tiny little mouse alive. I searched the internet for info on how to feed orphaned baby mice, and we tried our best, but sadly he survived only four days and despite all our efforts Lucky didn't make it.

I fell in love with that tiny little creature as soon as I saw him. As you can see from the pictures above, he was so precious. Holding him in your hands was incredible. So delicate and mousy with his little whiskers and teeny-tiny tail, yet so human-like in his actions. He'd curl up on his side to sleep, resting his head on the soft little velour blanky I'd gotten him, and when I'd pick him up, he'd stretch in my hands and yawn. At one point, he was sleeping and completely covered, and when I lifted the edge of the blanky and the light hit him, he raised his little mouse arm to cover his still unopened eyes. Amazing. Only God could create something so tiny and perfect. After this experience, I'll never look at a mouse the same way again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


"Bridesmaids" is a hilarious new comedy from Judd Apatow, the director of "The 40-Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." Annie's (Kristen Wiig) life seems to be in a downward spiral since her cake shop flopped. Her boyfriend left her, she's had to take a dead-end job selling jewelry, and she's in a self-destructive relationship with a loathsome lothario (Jon Hamm) who just uses her for sex. In the midst of all this upheaval, her best friend since childhood, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), becomes engaged and asks her to be her maid of honor, and this is were the hilarity begins as Annie is quickly overwhelmed by the logistics of keeping the bride and the motley crew of bridesmaids happy, all while maintaining her own sanity.

This is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, on par with "The Hangover," maybe even better. Please be aware that as in most Apatow movies, there is tons of gross-out, raunchy and bathroom type humor. If you're averse to that type of humor, do not go to this movie. If you're OK with it, then you will laugh for two hours straight. The bridal shop scene alone is worth the $11 movie ticket. Kristen Wiig and each of the supporting cast members were just brilliant. It was hilarious, sweet and at moments even touching. While the cast is comprised mostly of women, it is by no means a typical 'chick flick' in the traditional touchy-feely sense, though it does have one key component in most 'chick flicks', a happy ending.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Summer Movie Preview

The summer movie season will be kicking into high gear soon, which means we'll be seeing tons of shoot 'em up/blow 'em up blockbusters, a few raunchy comedies and a scattered superhero movie or two to round off the list. Here's a few of the movies which have made my summer viewing list:

"Super 8": This J.J. Abrams sci-fi is set in the summer of 1979 in a small Ohio town, which is the site of a catastrophic train crash as well as some other mysterious goings on. They've already started advertising this one, and it looks promising. Release date: June 10th

"Cars 2": This sure-fire Pixar classic will reunite us with our old buddies, Lightning McQueen and good 'ol boy Mater, the tow truck, as they head overseas to compete in a World Grand Prix. Release date: June 24th

"Bad Teacher": Stars Cameron Diaz as a potty-mouthed and all kinds of wrong teacher, hoping to land a rich meal ticket in the form of a handsome substitute teacher played by Cameron's real-life old flame, Justin Timberlake. Release date: June 24th

"Captain America: The First Avenger": It wouldn't be a summer movie list without at least one superhero movie. Chris Evans stars as a young soldier who volunteers for an experimental program trying to create super soldiers. Release date: July 22nd

"Cowboys & Aliens": Stars Daniel Craig. Need I say more. It's billed as a cross between a classic western and alien-invasion movie. Release date: July 29th

"Crazy Stupid Love": Two of my favorite actors, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling, star in this romantic comedy. Release date: July 29th

"The Tree": My one quirky concession to the typical summer fare. Set in the Australian countryside, the movie tells the tale of 8-year old Simone who becomes convinced her late father is whispering to her through the leaves of her favorite tree. The film closed last year's Cannes Film Festival and supposedly received a seven-minute standing ovation. Release date: July

"The Help": The movie stars Emma Stone and is based on the best-selling novel by the same name. You can read my 2009 post reviewing the book here. Release date: August 12th

In addition to the above, you've also got the prequel "X-Men: First Class" starring cutie James McAvoy (6/3); hottie Ryan Reynolds as DC Comics superhero the "Green Lantern" (6/17); a couple family movies starring two very funny guys, "Mr. Popper's Penguins" with Jim Carrey as a real-estate mogul who receives a mysterious crate from Antarctica and ends up playing mommy to six penguins (6/17) and "Zookeeper" with Kevin James as a kind caretaker that can speak to the animals (7/8); and last but not least, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" with the world's favorite boy wizard (7/15).

Life Imitates Art