Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister


Rachel Simon

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Riding the Bus with My Sister Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Rachel Simon's Riding the Bus with My Sister. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Rachel Simon

As she explains in Riding the Bus with My Sister, Rachel Simon was born in Newark, New Jersey and raised in various towns across New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She was interested in writing from a very young age and spent must of her childhood composing letters and stories on her typewriter. After her parents’ tumultuous divorce and her mother’s remarriage to an abusive conman, she went away to boarding school and then to Bryn Mawr College, where she studied anthropology. Her once-troubled relationship with her family is the foundation of much of her work, including Riding the Bus with My Sister. After graduation, Simon took a series of jobs, including as a paralegal and bookstore manager, before getting a graduate degree in creative writing. She published her first book, the short story collection Little Nightmares, Little Dreams, in 1990 and her second, the novel The Magic Touch, in 1994. After writing a column for The Philadelphia Inquirer and teaching creative writing for several years, she spent 1999 riding the buses around Reading, Pennsylvania with her sister Beth. Based on this experience, she published Riding the Bus with My Sister in 2002. This was when her career particularly took off: she became a popular speaker about disability and continued to write about the subject, including in her bestselling 2011 novel The Story of Beautiful Girl, which tells the story of a couple with disabilities who are locked in an institution in the 1960s but fall in love and escape. Simon lives in Delaware, where she continues to write and teach.
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Historical Context of Riding the Bus with My Sister

In Riding the Bus with My Sister, Rachel Simon notes that most people with disabilities were confined to the home or isolated in institutions until the mid-20th century. (She explores this history more in-depth in her 2011 novel The Story of Beautiful Girl.) Simon believes that the same thing likely would have happened to her sister Beth if it weren’t for the disability justice movement that has struggled for decades to win equal access and treatment for people with disabilities. This movement has made it possible for people like Simon’s sister Beth to access the social support and government programs that they need in order to live free, dignified lives. While the disabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt put an important public face to disability issues in the 1930s, and returning World War II veterans with disabilities began fighting for accommodations and services in the 1940s, the public only began to recognize disability as a civil rights issue in the 1970s. The disability justice movement worked alongside the civil rights movement of the 1960s and built on its successes. Important early milestones in the movement include the creation of the National Association for Retarded Children (now called the Arc of the United States) in the 1940s and the UC Berkeley’s Disabled Students Program, which began providing accommodations for students with disabilities in the 1960s and later became the model for similar programs at educational institutions around the U.S. Although the U.S. disability justice movement won a number of significant policy victories in the 1970s, especially in schools and universities, its most significant accomplishment by far has been the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which comprehensively guarantees equal access for people with disabilities and protects them against discrimination. Simon also notes how the term “mental retardation” was phased out during the early 2000s; the term “intellectual disability” is now far more common. Today, one in five Americans lives with a disability, and the disability justice movement continues to fight discrimination, poverty, and unequal access to services and healthcare.

Other Books Related to Riding the Bus with My Sister

Rachel Simon’s other books include the popular novel The Story of Beautiful Girl (2011), the handbook The Writer’s Survival Guide (1997), and the short story collection Little Nightmares, Little Dreams (1990). Other prominent memoirs about disability include Harriet McBryde Johnson’s Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales From a Life (2005), Emily Rapp’s The Still Point of the Turning World (2013), Judith Heumann’s Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist (2020), and Helen Keller’s famous autobiography The Story of My Life (1903). In addition to Simon’s The Story of Beautiful Girl, a few bestselling novels about disability include Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love (1989), Susan R. Nussbaum’s Good Kings Bad Kings (2013), and Mark Haddon’s popular but highly controversial The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003). Meanwhile, accessible books that focus on intellectual and developmental disabilities include James C. Harris’s Intellectual Disability: A Guide for Families and Professionals (2010), Bryna Siegel and Stuart Silverstein’s “What About Me?”: Growing Up with a Developmentally Disabled Sibling (2007), and Robert Bogdan and Steven J. Taylor’s The Social Meaning of Mental Retardation: Two Life Stories (1994). Books specifically focused on the self-determination movement include Deanna J. Sands and Michael L. Wehmeyer’s Self-Determination Across the Life Span: Independence and Choice for People with Disabilities (1996), Richard M. Ryan’s The Handbook of Self-Determination Research (2002), and Judy Mark’s pamphlet Profiles in Self-Determination: Inspiration for a Full Life (2019).
Key Facts about Riding the Bus with My Sister
  • Full Title: Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey
  • When Written: 1999–2002
  • Where Written: Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania
  • When Published: August 1, 2002
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Memoir, Creative Nonfiction, Disability Studies
  • Setting: Reading, Pennsylvania; several other places in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; and the American Southwest
  • Climax: Rachel and Beth have an explosive argument over a towel, then reconcile.
  • Antagonist: Rachel and Beth’s mother and stepfather
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Riding the Bus with My Sister

Movie Adaptation. After the publication of Riding the Bus with My Sister, Rachel Simon’s friends repeatedly asked her who she would want to play Beth, if her book were ever made into a movie. She assumed that this would never happen, but one day, she decided that the best candidate would be Rosie O’Donnell. Just five days later, Rosie O’Donnell called Rachel out of the blue, saying that she read the book, loved it, and wanted to make a movie out of it. She ended up playing Beth, just as Rachel had hoped.