Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister

by

Rachel Simon

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Riding the Bus with My Sister: 24. August: Inside the Tears Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The book flashes back: at boarding school, three months into Beth’s disappearance, Rachel gets a phone call during class. One of her father’s friends explains that Beth will be flying from Albuquerque to New York right away. Rachel has no idea why. After the call, she faints. At night, her dad stops by the school with Max and Beth. She runs to hug Beth, who is smiling but “filthy beyond words.”
In high school, Beth returns to Rachel’s life just as abruptly as she disappeared. While her return is a great relief, it also proves to Rachel that she won’t always be able to protect her sister from harm, no matter how much she tries. After all, Beth’s “filthy” state makes it clear that she has suffered serious harm during her time with her mother and stepdad.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
In the car, Beth explains that she was actually in Las Vegas. Rachel and Beth’s new stepfather was drinking nonstop, beating their mom, and forcing her and Beth to move from hotel to hotel. He’s convinced that the KGB and CIA are after him. He sold the car and made Beth and her mom travel around on buses. The whole time, Beth was looking for a way out. She eventually escaped from her Las Vegas hotel room and called Laura from a payphone. Her stepdad attacked her and held her at gunpoint all night, and then her mother sent her home for her own safety. Beth breaks into tears while telling this story, and Max, Rachel, and their father do the same when they hear it.
Beth’s story confirms many of Rachel’s worst fears: her paranoid, violent stepdad terrorized her and her mother, and because they didn’t know where she was, the rest of her family couldn’t do anything to protect her. However, surprisingly, Beth doesn’t seem to be as affected by her childhood trauma as Rachel is in adulthood. That said, readers might wonder whether her attachment to buses has something to do with this period in her life, during which buses provided one of her few routes to safety.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Rachel, Beth, Max, and Laura all move in with their father. They try to figure out why their mother has “gone off the deep end,” and they suspect that she is actually enjoying her new life’s insane adventures. They avoid mentioning her name and try to forget about her. While Rachel secretly writes to her friends about what happened, Max and Laura play cards and talk about moving on, and Beth watches TV, stares into space, and sleeps 12 hours a day. Beth’s hair has been falling out, too.
Rachel feels profoundly disappointed by her mother’s abandonment, which feels like the ultimate betrayal of love and trust. This is the foundation of her issues with commitment and vulnerability as an adult. It’s telling that, as a teenager, she copes with these issues through writing—just as she has done as an adult, by writing this book. Meanwhile, while Beth experienced far more severe trauma, she processes it very differently. And this passage strongly implies that because Beth processes her trauma nonverbally, her siblings will never fully understand how she feels or what she thinks about her experience.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon