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: 31. November: The Girlfriend Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the present, Beth and the driver Melanie chat about Ricky Martin and the Backstreet Boys, cracking up like teenaged girls on the otherwise empty bus. Melanie is married and has kids, but she still enjoys these chats with Beth. On a long stretch of rural highway, they talk about Will Smith and the song “It’s Raining Men” while Rachel sits pensively behind them. She remembers playing with her own friends as a teenager and realizes that friendship is the most important ingredient of a happy life.
Beth’s friendship with Melanie is totally unlike her relationships with the other drivers: it’s based on the kind of lighthearted jokes that Rachel has always seen Beth make but has seldom seen her share with anyone else. Meanwhile, Rachel’s internal monologue makes it clear that she yearns for the same kind of close friendship that Beth and Melanie share, which she essentially lost after her breakup with Sam.
Themes
Love and Family Theme Icon
While Beth and Melanie talk about Cliff’s looks, Rachel gazes at her own reflection in the window. She sees failure, terror, and self-pity written on her face. Realizing that she’s never seen Beth express self-pity, Rachel decides to try to overcome her own. When Rodolpho tells Rachel that he’s interested in trying out another career, Rachel suggests acting, and she helps him rehearse for an audition at the local community theater. When Jacob befriends a passenger with advanced cancer, Rachel accompanies him to see her at the hospital. On her bus, Melanie tells Rachel and Beth about a friend who died in a car accident. She says that friendship is so important: people should “give while [they] can.”
In this moment of crisis, Rachel finally recognizes the root of her problems and resolves to take action. Specifically, just like Beth only changes because of “cataclysmic event[s],” Rachel only decides to change because she sees the terrifying consequences of failing to do so: going down the same ill-fated path as her mother. She decides to prioritize her relationships, so she starts giving back to the people who have helped her so much over the past year, in whatever way she can. She takes active steps to form reciprocal, caring relationships with the other drivers, just like she already has with Rick.
Themes
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Over the following weeks, other bus drivers start asking Rachel about their problems, like failing marriages, career choices, and going back to school. Meanwhile, Rachel keeps seeing Rick. They trust each other and love spending time together, but Rachel doesn’t want to take things further yet because she still isn’t totally over her breakup with Sam. She wonders if “we are all Beths, boarding other people’s life journeys, or letting them hop aboard ours.”
Rachel learns firsthand how connection begets connection: when she reaches out to help a few people, word naturally spreads, and before she knows it, she finds herself as a core figure in a broader community. Moreover, by opening up to herself and exploring her feelings with Rick, she finally admits the real reason she has been avoiding love and romance for the last four years: she still misses Sam. Finally, with her comment that “we are all Beths,” Rachel summarizes how riding the buses has taught her to value relationships and community above all else.
Themes
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon