1. What did you learn that you didn’t already know about the history of people with disabilities and the ways in which they were routinely treated by society? What did you learn about how people with disabilities might live today? Consider the lives of people you know who have a disability. Did the experiences of Lynnie and Homan change or shed light on your understanding of them?
2. Martha’s former students provide her with support for the first several years of Julia’s life. Was there a teacher in your life who meant as much to you as Martha meant to her students?
3. Why do you think Martha took on the incredible responsibility of raising another woman’s child instead of contacting the proper authorities? What would you have done in her place?
4. At the time Lynnie was a child, it wasn’t uncommon for parents to place their children with disabilities in an institution. Do you know anyone who had a child who was like Lynnie at that time? What choice did they make for their child, and how did that decision play out in their lives?
5. Kate breaks rules for Lynnie, doing such things as letting her draw pictures in her office and giving her a private place to see Buddy. When is it appropriate for professionals to go against official policy?
6. Lynnie does not want Kate to go in search of the baby and Kate says she will honor Lynnie’s wishes. What do you think of Kate’s decision to do this? Kate also secretly goes against Lynnie’s wishes, but does not tell her. Was this the right thing to do?
7. Homan is up against incredible odds in making his way in the world, especially once his uncle Blue dies. Discuss the ways that race, impairment, illiteracy, and institutionalization play a part in how he interacts with the world and how the world reacts to him.
8. Homan does not have a mental disability, yet he gets stuck in an institution for those who do. When he’s out in the world, people often shout at him, as if that will help him understand or even hear them. Discuss an interaction you’ve observed between a person with a disability and someone he didn’t know, where incorrect assumptions made real understanding impossible.
9. Homan realizes in the faith healing scene that he isn’t so sure he wants to be “fixed.” Why does he have so little interest? Sam also does not pursue healing, and the subject of being healed never even comes up for Lynnie. What do you think Rachel Simon is saying through her characters’ indifference to being “fixed”?
10. What do you think happened between Sam and Strawberry that led him to cry, and then to lose his interest in the free-wheeling life he and Homan had been living? Why do you think the man in the house at the top of the long front steps closed the door in Homan’s face?
11. When Julia is a baby in the stroller, Martha thinks about the history of words like “pajamas.” Later, when Julia is nearing school age, she collects wigs that she uses to spell words. How do these references to language foreshadow what happens when Julia is a teenager?
12. Do you think Julia’s lack of knowledge about her parents plays a part in her emotional development as a teenager, and as an adult? Was it right for Martha not to tell her the truth?
13. How does art create links between the characters throughout the book, and what is the role it plays in the final chapter?
14. In the Author’s Note at the end of the book, readers learn that the character of Homan was based on a real person. How does this knowledge affect your experience of the book?
15. Each character has a relationship to spirituality. Discuss how and if each changes over time. What do you think Rachel Simon was trying to say by including this aspect of all the characters’ lives?
16. Discuss the symbolism of the lighthouse man. Is it meant to be taken purely literally, or is there a metaphorical aspect to it as well?
17. Rachel Simon has said in interviews that the character of Homan follows a journey that has some overlaps with the episodes Odysseus went through in The Odyssey. What similarities do you see between the stories of Homan and Odysseus? Does The Story of Beautiful Girl conjure up other myths, folk tales, or fairy tales?
18. Romantic relationships between characters with disabilities are rare in fiction. How is the romance between Homan and Lynnie like the romances of characters in fiction who don’t have disabilities? How is it different?
19. The Story of Beautiful Girl is ultimately a story about love—romantic love, familial love, the love between friends. In what ways are the characters of the novel transformed by love, both given and received?
20. The epigraph of the novel is “Telling our stories is holy work.” Who does the “our” refer to in this book? What other groups of people can you think of whose stories have been hidden from society?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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