Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister

by

Rachel Simon

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The central character in Riding the Bus With My Sister, Rachel Simon’s sister Beth lives with a mild intellectual disability, resides alone in a subsidized apartment in a mid-sized Pennsylvania city, and spends her days riding the buses around town. In the book, Rachel repeatedly visits Beth in an attempt to understand her sister’s life and developmental disability. Ultimately, Rachel finds that Beth is far happier, freer, and more independent than she ever could have imagined, largely because her treatment providers follow the principle of self-determination and give her the final power to make her own major life decisions. Beth is creative, enthusiastic, and extremely knowledgeable about everything involving buses—she knows all the routes, drivers, and internal bus company drama. But at times, she can also be cruel, manipulative, obsessive, and egotistical—usually because she ignores or fails to understand people’s needs. Rachel depicts how both these sides of Beth have coexisted throughout her entire life. She also asks the difficult, sensitive question of how much of the problem is Beth’s disability, and how much is Beth herself. Rachel’s depiction of Beth serves in part to disrupt stereotypes about developmentally disabled people—and particularly to challenge the ideas that their disability is the most significant thing about their identity or daily life, or that their harmful behaviors cannot be changed because they’re automatically the result of disability. Ultimately, Beth turns Rachel into a disability justice activist and teaches her numerous important lessons about community, love, and freedom.

Beth Quotes in Riding the Bus with My Sister

The Riding the Bus with My Sister quotes below are all either spoken by Beth or refer to Beth . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grand Central Publishing edition of Riding the Bus with My Sister published in 2013.
1. January: The Journey Quotes

Beth and I, both in our late thirties, were born eleven months apart, but we are different in more than age. She owns a wardrobe of blazingly bright colors and can leap out of bed before dawn. She is also a woman with mental retardation.

I’ve come here to give Beth her holiday present: I’ve come to ride the buses.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth
Related Symbols: Beth and Rachel’s Clothes
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

In the predawn moonlight, as she chattered on about our labyrinthine itinerary, well aware that there are few if any other people in this world devoted to a calling of bell cords and exhaust fumes, she spontaneously threw back her head and trumpeted, “I’m diffrent! I’m diffrent!” as if she were hurling a challenge with all her might beyond the limits of the sky.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth (speaker)
Page Number: 7-8
Explanation and Analysis:

In the course of my life, cars and trains and jets have whisked me to wherever I wanted to go, and I was going places, I thought; I was racing my way to becoming a Somebody. A Somebody who would live a Big Life. What that meant exactly, I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I longed to escape the restrictions of what I saw as a small life: friends and a family and a safe, unobjectionable job that would pay me a passably adequate income. Although this package encompassed just the kind of existence many people I knew were utterly content with, I wanted something more.

Then, in the winter of my thirty-ninth year, I boarded a bus with my sister and discovered that I wanted broader and deeper rewards than those I would find in the Big Life.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Mental age. It was as if they thought that a person’s daily passions—and literacy skills, emotional maturity, fashion preferences, musical tastes, hygiene habits, verbal abilities, social shrewdness, romantic longings, and common sense—could all fit neatly into a single box topped, like a child’s birthday cake, with a wax 7, or 13, or 3. […] My friends seemed relieved to learn that people with mental retardation are individuals. I was relieved to omit just what an individual Beth happened to be.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth
Page Number: 11-12
Explanation and Analysis:

I did ride with her, and over that day I was touched by the bus drivers’ compassion, saddened and sickened by how many people saw Beth simply as a nuisance, and awed by how someone historically exiled to society’s Siberia not only survived, but thrived. Indeed, the Beth I remembered from years ago had a heavy, ungainly gait; the Beth I saw now was not only nimble-footed, but her demeanor was exuberant and self-assured. I was aware of my earlier objections to her bus riding, but they began to feel inexcusably feeble.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jesse
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

I think, You need to do this, even if you don’t know where it will take you.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
4. February: The Professor Quotes

“Yeah,” she says with a quick nod. “He’s cool.

Ah, yes. Cool. As my speech might sometimes seem unintelligible to Beth, so can hers seem to me, because Beth has her own lingo. And in Beth-speak, as I have gathered from her letters, “cool” does not concern hip attire or trendy indifference. Instead, it is the term of highest approval, bestowed only upon those people Beth deems worthy of her attention and trust, and crucial if one is to be promoted into her personal Top Ten (though, in truth, hip-hop shades or chiseled Brad Pitt features—neither of which the Professor possesses—are apt to increase the likelihood of admission). “Yes,” I say. “I guess I do mean he’s cool.”

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth (speaker), Tim
Related Symbols: Letters and Cards
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

“Every day right here in this seat, I have history riding with me.

And that’s what I like about it. There’s so much richness on a bus—really, so much richness everywhere—if you just develop the ability to look at life with a different eye, and appreciate the opportunities offered to you.”

Related Characters: Tim (speaker), Rachel Simon, Beth
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
7. March: Streetwise Quotes

“I told her, but she said I still couldn’t come in. If they don’t want me there, I don’t want to go there.”

I try to wash the outrage from my face, as well as my surprise at her reaction. I think of the bookstore customers who’d call the president of the company if we dared say such a thing to them. I think of the libraries that homeless people have sued successfully so they could pass their days at a reading table. But lawyers, and the right to demand rights, are part of a world that Beth’s aware of but doesn’t seem to want to inhabit.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth (speaker)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

There it is again, that deep voice grumbling on inside me: How can she be so blithe about the possibility of trouble? You can’t let her do that. She may be putting herself in real jeopardy!

I take a deep breath. Despite her familiarity with this city, I’m not sure she fully understands, or accepts, how perilous the world can be. Yet if I get too “bossy,” I know she’ll dig in her heels all the harder. I also know it would be a great loss if I let some inner voice of criticism come between us. I’m enamored of her feistiness and her keen-witted street savvy. I feel privileged to be her sidekick. I want this year to go on.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jesse
Page Number: 75-76
Explanation and Analysis:
8. March: Into Out There Quotes

Mommy sits Max and Laura and me down in her room and closes the door. She tells us, “Beth needs a little extra help sometimes, and whenever you see that she does, help her. Don’t you ever forget: it could have happened to any one of you.

[…]

Daddy says, “Some people send mentally retarded kids away to institutions, but we’ll never do that. Ever, ever, ever. We’ll always have room for her.
Then when they get up and open the doors I think about how we just heard two words that they never say in front of Beth: “mentally retarded.” We never ask why, we just go back to playing with her. But we know, too, not to say those words where she can hear them.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Rachel and Beth’s Mother (speaker), Rachel and Beth’s Father (speaker), Beth , Max, Laura
Page Number: 82-83
Explanation and Analysis:
12. May: Lunch with Jesse Quotes

I tell my friends I want to know what “their own kind” means. […] Okay, so she’s a tiny, sassy, roly-poly, Crayola-bright, nonpracticing Jewish chatterbox, and he’s a five-feet-four, bashful, sinewy, Lycra-clad, nonpracticing Baptist loner. Yet she makes sure he’s safer by buying him a bike helmet. He makes sure she’s prettier by shaving the hair that grows on her face. They scratch each other’s backs, and they accept each other’s moles. They argue over her queen bee ways or his reticence; they make up. He hangs his bike awards in her apartment. She keeps the redial button on her phone set to call him. They agree that they both want their own space and should remain unmarried, visiting in mornings or evenings, remaining alone with their dreams. I am still longing to meet my own kind, whatever that is, and I wonder who among these critics has met theirs.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jesse
Page Number: 126-127
Explanation and Analysis:

The hostess, who is also the waitress, has shed all traces of her earlier inhospitality, and she doesn’t ignore Beth and Jesse, as some waitresses would do, waiting for me to act as the interpreter. Instead, she asks them what they want. It must be taxing for her, I think, as she pockets her pad and walks off; it’s perplexing enough for me. And how can she assess the proper way to behave, when my conversations with friends have made plain to me how little even the most enlightened of them knows about people like my sister? After all, until Beth’s generation, many people with mental retardation were shut away in institutions and attics.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jesse
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

Beth wipes a bread crumb from Jesse’s small mustache. I bite into a roll, so frazzled that my hand is trembling. Now I understand that it’s not just Jesse’s blind eye or mental disability that discourages him from accepting my offers to join us in restaurants. There’s so much separateness in this almost empty room that I can’t breathe.

“Don’t pay him no mind,” Jesse says quietly, having observed more than I’d realized. “People is gonna look all day, and they might say that they don’t think it’s right, but it’s not really for them to judge. As long as you be nice to a person, looks don’t matter. You in this world, and you gotta accept it.”
Yeah,” Beth says. “Sometimes people give us looks, but I don’t think about it.”

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth (speaker), Jesse (speaker)
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

“You want to know ‘bout love?” he says, lowering his glass. Then he sits up straight and says slowly, “Love is when you care for somebody, and you be willing to go out of your way and do anything for that person, and to take care of that person, and if they have problems, that you can help them out any way you know how. If they sick, that you can bring ‘em medicine, or give ‘em a helping hand. That’s what love is.”

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Jesse (speaker), Beth
Page Number: 134-135
Explanation and Analysis:
15. June: The Earth Mother Quotes

Put a lid on it, Beth, the dark voice inside me wants to say—the same voice that’s been piping up since this year began, and especially in my past few trips to see her. You’ve said precisely the same thing to every driver today, regardless of how the last one responded. Can’t you get back to a sweeter mood? Would it be such a hardship to listen to someone else for a minute?

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Estella
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

I glance around, and realize with surprise that all the passengers happen to be female. Soon our chat in the front of the bus has rippled out to every unrequited teenager, too-young-to-vote mother, starry-eyed fiancée, common-law wife, football widow, three-time divorcée, golden-anniversary grandmother, and avowed single woman until the whole bus is talking together about men: the good, the bad, and their own choices.

[…] Maybe this is what it used to be like once upon a time. Maybe, when women gathered for quilting bees, or when men played checkers outside the general store, or when everyone came together at village dances and July Fourth picnics, this ease helped people feel less alone in their worries. Maybe, too, this was the swiftness with which neighbors became friends, and the simplicity with which one person’s tale became another person’s teacher.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Estella (speaker), Beth
Page Number: 162-163
Explanation and Analysis:
16. June: Disabilities Quotes

I hang up in a swirl of relief and shame. I have lived with mental retardation for thirty-nine years, and I have never asked anyone what it really is. In the interest of raising four equal children, our parents almost never uttered the words except in private and never added books about mental retardation to our shelves. In fact, I’d read about this disability only in works of fiction […] and none of them answered the questions that I hadn’t thought to ask. But why should it have occurred to me to do so? Mental retardation had just always been my sister, and my sister had always been it.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Olivia
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

I still have not untangled how much is Beth and how much is Beth’s brain, nor whether, when she does not welcome new conversations, fashions, manners, boundaries, or concepts of space, it is because she cannot, or will not, or is simply not in a mood to open her mind at a given moment. I also have not ascertained how much, if any, of her self-centeredness is a result of her mental retardation. And, given the inextricable weave of nature and nurture, of self and society, that exists in all of us, it seems unlikely that I ever will.

But now I do know that, like me, and the drivers, Beth is on a journey. It’s just that Beth’s bus chugs along a lot more slowly.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jesse
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:
18. July: The Optimist Quotes

Wouldn’t it be nice, even liberating, if I could begin to see beyond my cynicism and resistance and controlling impulses? […] I think about how so many of these drivers, at crucial turning points, learned to view and inhabit their own lives in fresh ways, [and] slowly it comes to me.

Beth is living by her own choices, unfettered by the whims of an institution or group home placement decision; she travels according to the starred dots on her map; she eats what she likes when she’s hungry; she boldly dresses in a fireworks display of ensembles that declare, Look at me, I count in this world. She is, in many ways, the embodiment of self-determination.

A tension that I hadn’t even realized I’d been feeling—a tension that has possessed my body throughout this day—for weeks, no, for months—begins to ease.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Bailey, Olivia, Beth
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Beth has sought out mentors in places where others might not look, and, moreover, taken the time, and endured the pain, to weed out those drivers who are decent and kind and reflective from those who are indifferent or hostile. The ones I’m meeting are, I realize as I quickly do the math, only about a sixth of the whole bus company. That took Beth a huge amount of trial and error—and, yes, determination. I shake my head, amazed at how much I’d somehow missed, and then, with a surge of optimism, wonder if one out of six people in any profession or community would also be exceptionally thoughtful. How could I really know? Have I ever spent this much time exploring the worldviews of my colleagues at school or the bookstore? Do I have a clue about whether my neighbors feel committed to the Golden Rule?

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Bailey, Claude, Tim, Jacob, Estella, Rodolpho, Rick
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
21. August: The Loner Quotes

To Beth, every day is Independence Day. This was not true for the first half of her life, and for the next quarter it was more of a rebel war, with its own versions of boycotts (particularly at meals), Boston Tea Parties (I shudder to remember her efforts to overturn the order in her classroom), and a one-woman Minuteman regiment. Since she has lived on her own, though, each day her actions declare anew that all men are created equal, and have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and, especially, the pursuit of happiness. I love this about her, and, now that I have come to see her as proudly bearing the torch of self-determination, I regard her as courageous, a social pioneer.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jack
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

“I wish I had a ‘Help Anyone, Anytime Book,’ like Jack’s.”

“Why?”

What I want is a guide to being a good sister, to doing well by Beth, and I would leave it propped on my lap all the time. There would be instructions on how to adjust my guidance to her self-reliance, and how to find the difference between caring and controlling.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth (speaker), Jack
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:
26. September: Surgery Quotes

There, in this quiet corner of the hospital, stroking her skin, I look into her eyes. They are so scratched and foggy, so hard to see inside. Yet in this moment, they are also stripped of all her defiance and foxiness and mischief. She looks at me with a fullness of trust that I seldom see.

And something happens: the ice in my heart starts to melt, and I feel a rush of love pour in. The sensation warms and surprises me, and I wonder if she sees astonishment in my eyes. She can’t see much anyway and, besides, she’s drifting off to sleep. But somehow I’m sure she knows.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jacob
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:
27. September: Releasing the Rebel Quotes

Dad realizes they are lost.

I don’t know where we are,” he admits, squinting through the blackness.

Will we get home?” Beth asks.

Somehow. I’ll get us there somehow.

She’s quiet for a minute, then she looks at him. “At least we have each other,” she says.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth (speaker), Rachel and Beth’s Father (speaker), Rachel and Beth’s Mother
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:
28. October: The Hunk Quotes

She goes on and on, and now the dark voice, which I thought I’d laid to rest last month, roars within me again. I squeeze my hands together. When I started riding the buses, I remember, I thought of the people who didn’t like Beth as insensitive and narrow-minded. Now I find myself more sympathetic to their point of view. Yes, some of them are coarse and offensively vocal. But she is so loud. And she talks all the time. About nothing. I know many of us babble on about nothing, too, but she does it over and over and over—and over and over and over—and it’s really eroding the limits of my endurance. Dad used to tell us he came to dread their car rides to work for precisely the same reasons. That was twenty years ago.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Rachel and Beth’s Father
Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:

I think: I wish I were a saint.

I wish I were a magnanimous sister who could feel compassion for the way that Beth is re-creating a dysfunctional family environment on the buses.
I wish I had the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

I wish I could learn the language of Maybe It’s Good Enough. Maybe it’s good enough that she can memorize seventy drivers’ schedules and stand up to racists and read. I wish I could be a realist who could accept Beth’s level of development and not long for more.

I wish I were like acquaintances who think that people with mental retardation are “God’s true angels.” I don’t want to think, “I wish she’d behave a little more appropriately today.”
I wish I could change.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Cliff
Page Number: 268
Explanation and Analysis:

For a moment, as I stand halfway up the aisle in the now still bus, embarrassment courses through me. I realize how I keep turning to these drivers to help me steer my own life. But it has come to feel like a different world up here, with different rules, and, besides, I think, I am too desperate to remind myself that I should keep my mouth shut. I wait until I’ve calmed down, then slip into Beth’s seat. I face him, as she always does, until he feels my eyes on him. He peers over at me.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Cliff
Page Number: 269-270
Explanation and Analysis:

With a jolt, I know what scares me.

It’s not just the same old crush with a new face, or the same old song with the same wrong words. It’s not just the pattern she doesn’t see, or care about, and therefore cannot or will not change.

It’s that Beth seems to need a cataclysmic event for her to change in any way—an event like our mother’s complete abdication of her responsibility to protect her own child, Juanita’s rejection, or Rodolpho’s abandonment. This seems true whether she’s being called upon to develop resourcefulness, assertiveness, or just basic self-restraint. I look at her and feel a clutch in my throat. What will it take now?

Is this all there will ever be to her life?

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Cliff, Jesse, Rodolpho
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:
30. October: Come Home, Little Girl Quotes

I discover that [my mother] is not the cold-hearted, mayhem-loving monster I’d imagined, but a deeply unhappy and lonely woman who somehow got caught up with a violent con man, an event that fills her with shame. […] After Beth had been sent away, he’d almost beaten my mother to death—and only then, finally, had she fled, with fifty-seven cents in her hand.

I realize I need to learn forgiveness and compassion. Little by little, season after season, my days stop seeming so dark and my nights so scary.

I tell Laura how much better I feel, that my depression is lifting; I can even write again. I tell her that it may be the hardest thing she ever does in her life, but that if she can face it, she can do anything. She relents as she listens, and one day she too picks up the phone.

Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:
31. November: The Girlfriend Quotes

[I] make out my reflection far too well, hauntingly blue and close. I cringe at the expression on my face.

Failure, it reads, and terror. The way my mother used to look when she trudged into the house after one of her dates. The way I used to feel when love withdrew. […] There is self-pity, too.

That old darkness rises within me. Don’t think about this, it says. Keep telling the world, No, I can’t, I’m sorry. Keep shutting the door.

But I do think about it. Beth is in stitches along with her friend right in front of me, and I realize with a jolt that for all her failures and terrors, I have never seen self-pity on her face. Not even a trace. Not once.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Rachel and Beth’s Mother, Beth , Melanie
Page Number: 289-290
Explanation and Analysis:
32. November: The Eighteenth Hole Quotes

I sit up to pull the curtains closed. But as I peer up to the light, I remember Beth turning our attention to the moon over and over as we drove to our grandmother’s apartment so long ago. I think of what she used to say: “Moon’s following us!” Suddenly I realize why this image has stayed with me all these years. It’s not because the moon’s the big thing and we’re just puny underneath and she had it all reversed. It’s because no matter how far you drive, or how hard you hide, you can never leave the moon behind. Perhaps this is what she meant all along.

[…] Maybe I should actually go to see her this year. Maybe I’ll call my editor and put him off. It’s time I went to visit my sister.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth
Page Number: 303
Explanation and Analysis:
34. December: Finding the Twin Quotes

I lean against my wall, moved and chastened. For fifteen minutes I watch the flurries turn to serious snow outside my window and listen to her, and think how hard this apology must be for her—and how hard all this is for me. I had always told myself that facing my feelings about my mother was the hardest thing I would ever have to do, but now, standing here after telling my sister that I hate her, and hating myself for hurting her so, I realize that being a good sister to Beth might be even more difficult. No one can be a good sister all the time. I can only try my best. Just because I am not a saint does not mean that I am a demon.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Rachel and Beth’s Mother
Related Symbols: Letters and Cards
Page Number: 317
Explanation and Analysis:
36. January: Beyond the Limits of the Sky Quotes

There is just enough sun left for me to make out a silvery bus, moving like a fish, winding between the curbs. Maybe a bus where my sister sits. […] To the east, there’s another, and another, and another. Each one its own private history class, or luncheonette, or quilting bee, or schoolroom, or comedy theater—yet each one linked, one person at a time, to all the others. Because I can see, as Rick points it out, how they glide along, stopping for riders—riders who might have been on that run last year and are now over here, and riders from over here who might be transferring to a bus over there—and how the journeys seem separate, yet are constantly and inextricably joined together. I step back and take in all the buses coasting and turning and stopping and going—the enormous web of the world.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Rick, Tim
Page Number: 333-334
Explanation and Analysis:
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Beth Character Timeline in Riding the Bus with My Sister

The timeline below shows where the character Beth appears in Riding the Bus with My Sister. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Author’s Note
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
...changed the names of everyone who appears in the book (besides herself and her sister Beth). She also notes that the term “mental retardation” is no longer considered acceptable, and that... (full context)
1. January: The Journey
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
One morning in January, Rachel Simon’s sister Beth wakes her up and tells her to get dressed for the bus. Rachel is exhausted... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Beth guides Rachel down Main Street to McDonald’s, where she buys a coffee, and then to... (full context)
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For the rest of the day, Rachel follows Beth on her buses. She knows all the drivers and helps them with their routes; she... (full context)
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Love and Family Theme Icon
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Unlike Beth, Rachel has always wanted to become “a Somebody who would live a Big Life.” But,... (full context)
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During her workaholic phase, Rachel didn’t see Beth for several years. Instead, they wrote letters: every week, Rachel sent Beth a card, and... (full context)
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One winter, Rachel mentioned Beth to her editor, who suggested that she ride the buses with Beth for a day... (full context)
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Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Rachel attends Beth’s meeting in January. As usual, Beth is dressed in bright colors, while Rachel wears all... (full context)
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Beth also talks about her relationships with Jesse, the bus drivers, and her family. Rachel notes... (full context)
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But after the meeting, Rachel learns that Beth does want to change something. As she waits to catch a bus, Beth asks Rachel... (full context)
2. January: The Time of Snows and Sorrow
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Rachel flashes back to Beth’s infancy. When Beth is two months old, their mother tells the neighbor, Mrs. Stein, that... (full context)
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The family doctor examines Beth several times but doesn’t realize that something is wrong for many months. When Beth is... (full context)
3. February: Hitting the Road
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In the present, at 5:15 a.m., Beth dances around her apartment and wakes up Rachel, who is sleeping uncomfortably on her floor.... (full context)
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Rachel remembers that Jesse visits Beth on evenings and Sunday mornings, and he’s as obsessed with bicycles as Beth is with... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...and fills her coat pockets with gear, ranging from tea bags to her journal. Meanwhile, Beth “dress[es] with nothing but style in mind,” wearing bright green and purple. While Rachel sluggishly... (full context)
4. February: The Professor
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
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At 6 a.m., Beth and Rachel are standing on a corner, watching buses drive past. Beth tells Rachel all... (full context)
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Tim affectionately teases Beth about her habit of riding empty routes and knowledge about all the bus drivers. He... (full context)
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Rachel notes that she usually simplifies her sentences for Beth, but she starts wondering if, like Tim, she should use her usual complicated vocabulary instead,... (full context)
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...city slowly changes over time. Rachel looks at the multicolored drawing of a face that Beth has just finished. (full context)
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Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...pay attention to the details: their faces and speech, the bus’s sounds and ads. As Beth and Tim chat about different kinds of buses and an injured driver, Rachel starts to... (full context)
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Then, an elderly passenger named Norma tells Tim and Beth that today would be her anniversary. She and other passengers share memories of their youth,... (full context)
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The passengers disembark, until only Rachel, Beth, and Tim are left. While the bus waits for passengers at the mall, Tim tells... (full context)
5. February: Fighting
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The book again flashes back to Rachel and Beth’s childhoods. At Halloween, their mother has carefully made costumes for all four of her children,... (full context)
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But there are also scary times with Beth. Once, Beth accidentally poisons herself by drinking oil paint, and she has to go to... (full context)
6. March: The Pilgrim
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Rachel has returned to ride with Beth about ten days after her previous visit. Beth found her a safe place to park,... (full context)
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Beth complains about Gus, a bus driver who’s mean to her, but Jacob says that Gus... (full context)
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Then, an elderly woman loudly complains that the bus just entered Zone 1, which Beth’s bus pass doesn’t cover. She insists that Beth should be thrown off the bus for... (full context)
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Beth plays with some kids on the bus—they sing and clap together, and the kids see... (full context)
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Later, as they wait for a train to pass, Beth comments that Jacob once died. Jacob explains that he used to be a serious alcoholic.... (full context)
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...is the ultimate act of selflessness. The train passes, and he drives ahead; he tells Beth that his near-death experience is why he believes in the Golden Rule. But Beth says... (full context)
7. March: Streetwise
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Beth and Rachel walk down Main Street, hunting for a bathroom. This is often the hardest... (full context)
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As Beth and Rachel walk down Main Street, Beth points out a group of prisoners sweeping the... (full context)
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Walking up Main Street, Rachel realizes that she doesn’t meet Beth’s definition of “cool.” Then, Beth runs into a series of friends—mostly homeless people and other... (full context)
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Rachel and Beth arrive at the corner where they’ll catch the bus they’ve missed. Then, Beth tells Rachel... (full context)
8. March: Into Out There
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Rachel again flashes back to her and Beth’s childhood. Rachel is eight and Beth is seven; they play a guessing game about place... (full context)
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In their game, the kids start humming and guessing song melodies. When it’s Beth’s turn to hum, she only gives her siblings two notes: “DUH duh.” (It’s “Hey Jude.”)... (full context)
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...in the basement room that Rachel shares with her older sister Laura. The game helps Beth learn numbers and letters, which she needs to succeed in her special ed classes. When... (full context)
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Rachel’s mom and dad both tell their kids that they’ll need to help Beth out and care for her when they grow older. They promise that they’ll never hide... (full context)
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One day, Beth and Rachel hide from Ringo at the bottom of the stairs, because they’re afraid of... (full context)
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...they go door to door and say they’re raising funds to help “retarded people” like Beth. They make $50 in just two nights, then decide that what they’re doing is wrong. (full context)
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...notices her mother surreptitiously running her hand across her face. On another night, they catch Beth sleepwalking down the stairs and into the street. Rachel wonders if Beth is “just doing... (full context)
9. April: The Dreamer
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In the present, on a crisp spring morning, Beth and Rachel ride with Beth’s favorite bus driver, the “exotically handsome” Rodolpho. Beth won’t tell... (full context)
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Rachel asks Rodolpho how he met Beth, and he explains that they met on the night bus. Beth would talk to him... (full context)
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Rodolpho parks the bus by an airport and tells Rachel and Beth that he used to want to be a pilot. But he worked so hard to... (full context)
10. April: The Drivers’ Room
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After they get off Rodolpho’s bus at the terminal, Rachel and Beth run into Jacob. Beth goes to the drivers’ private lounge to use the bathroom—besides them,... (full context)
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Beth always watches out for new bus drivers and makes a point to ride with them... (full context)
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Beth is still hurt about her issues with Henry. Rachel tells Beth about the importance of... (full context)
11. April: The End of Play
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Rachel flashes back to her childhood. Beth wants her to keep putting the Donny Osmond song “One Bad Apple” on the record... (full context)
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Rachel also likes listening to Beth sing, helping her decorate her room in their new house, and getting books from the... (full context)
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...synonyms in her notebook. But she also notices the words people use to talk about Beth—most of all, “retard.” Whenever other kids use that word, Rachel tells them about Beth. It’s... (full context)
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As a teenager, Rachel makes plenty of her own friends, and she stops playing with Beth. Sometimes, she acts bossy on purpose, making Beth do chores for her. One day, Rachel... (full context)
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Beth can’t easily hang out with her own friends, since they live far away and have... (full context)
12. May: Lunch with Jesse
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Late one morning, Rachel asks Beth if she knows what love is. Beth says that she knows she loves Jesse, even... (full context)
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...his bike and sometimes doing small jobs, like mowing an old woman’s lawn. He and Beth visit each other often, but they don’t usually go out in public together because of... (full context)
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Rachel and Beth visit Jesse’s apartment, where he’s wearing a white martial arts uniform. He hesitates at first,... (full context)
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...public. They go to an empty restaurant. At first, the waitress looks unhappy to see Beth, but she takes her and Jesse’s orders respectfully. Rachel point out that it’s very difficult... (full context)
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Rachel notices a bald man glaring at Beth and Jesse from across the restaurant, and she starts trembling with anxiety. But Jesse notices... (full context)
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After Rachel, Beth, and Jesse finish eating, Beth goes to the bathroom, and Rachel asks Jesse what he... (full context)
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Shortly after meeting Jesse, Beth showed Rachel a naked picture of him; the day after, she called their brother Max... (full context)
Rachel accompanied Beth to all of her medical appointments. She knew that she was doing her sister and... (full context)
13. May: Matchmaker
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Beth decides to help Rachel find a husband. As she puts it in one of her... (full context)
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One night, Rachel calls a driver named Rick to interview him for an article about Beth and the buses. He’s charming, unpretentious, and funny. After the interview, he asks Rachel out... (full context)
15. June: The Earth Mother
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In the present, Rachel and Beth run from one bus to another. Out of breath, they sit down and greet the... (full context)
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...drives on and explains that her job requires dealing with lots of other people’s stress. Beth goes on talking about Keith, and Estella tells her not to worry. Rachel realizes that... (full context)
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One night in May, Rachel asked Beth if they could start riding at 7 a.m. instead of 5:30 the next morning, so... (full context)
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...ex has ridden the bus—he still harasses her whenever they ride at the same time. Beth explains that he already got off, and Estella offers to help set him up with... (full context)
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...to her lonely writer’s life in her empty apartment. But at just the same moment, Beth tells her it’s time to get off, and they descend catch their next bus. (full context)
16. June: Disabilities
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Rachel asks Beth where they are—Beth doesn’t know what street they’re on, but only the corner ahead. Rachel... (full context)
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...Olivia explains that, during her training, she learned that it takes longer for people like Beth to process information. She’s frustrated by how other people condescend to people like Beth but... (full context)
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During Rachel’s next visit, Beth spends all day on the buses, talking nonstop about her fights with other drivers. An... (full context)
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Before bed, Beth proudly declares that, tomorrow, she’s going to yell at a girl who recently criticized her... (full context)
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Once again, Rachel asks herself, “How much is Beth, and how much is Beth’s brain?” She starts researching on the internet. She learns that... (full context)
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...can cause developmental disability, but the cause is often unknown—including in most “mild” cases, like Beth’s. From a psychology textbook, Rachel learns that people in the “mild” category generally score like... (full context)
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...key daily skills—such as communication, self-care, social abilities, and health and safety. She realizes that Beth struggles with practically all of these skills, and she clearly meets the other criteria, too.... (full context)
17. June: Goodbye
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Rachel flashes back to the past: shortly after Rachel and Beth’s mother starts dating the ex-con, he makes the children move out. Max and Rachel carry... (full context)
18. July: The Optimist
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...portly, sleep-deprived driver Bailey parks his bus in front of Kmart and yawns. He and Beth joke about how many times he’s yawned, and then he spills coffee on his shirt... (full context)
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After an elderly woman yells “Get a job!” in Beth’s face, Bailey suggests that Beth help him make sure that his kids get to school... (full context)
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Beth has always struggled to keep jobs, as she frequently gets distracted, bullied, or bored. He... (full context)
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The disability experts Rachel contacts give her mixed responses about Beth’s unemployment. Some point out that many people with Beth’s kind of developmental disabilities can and... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Olivia keeps reminding Rachel that Beth’s treatment plan must be organized around her own preferences. This principle comes from the self-determination... (full context)
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...control the situation. Rachel wonders whether she can find the same patience to deal with Beth. Bailey explains how he stays positive through a story: when locked in a room filled... (full context)
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Rachel realizes that Beth is “the embodiment of self-determination”—she makes her own decisions in life and gets to leave... (full context)
19. July: Break Shot
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Beth keeps writing Rachel letters about Rick, the bus driver who asked her to dinner. One... (full context)
20. July: Gone
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When Rachel and Beth are teenagers, their mom marries her ex-con boyfriend. They go on their honeymoon and leave... (full context)
21. August: The Loner
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In the present, while waiting for a bus, Rachel and Beth overhear a white mother and daughter criticize a mixed-race family, calling them “disgusting” and “a... (full context)
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As the bus drives through a diverse neighborhood of immigrants, Beth tells Jack about the altercation with the mother and daughter. Rachel and Jack agree that... (full context)
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Jack tells Beth that she helped the mother and daughter, even if they didn’t actually listen to her.... (full context)
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Rachel states that Beth’s life embodies American democratic values—especially independence. Beth makes her own decisions, regardless of what other... (full context)
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Beth finally goes to an eye doctor, who finds that she has two rare conditions, which... (full context)
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On Jack’s bus, Beth tells Rachel that she wishes Jack could meet the girl he loved in high school.... (full context)
22. August: Nowhere
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The book flashes back to Rachel’s boarding school, after Beth’s disappearance. Rachel and her friends speculate about where Beth could be, and Rachel imagines her... (full context)
23. August: Be Not Afraid
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In the present, Rachel and Beth go to the Jersey Shore with Jacob, the bus driver, and his family. Rachel was... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Jacob and Rachel talk. They have already been trading emails about Beth, buses, and the “Big Things” in life. Jacob tells Rachel about his struggles to act... (full context)
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...feels exposed in her bathing suit, but she steps into the cold ocean water with Beth. They play catch with Jacob, but Beth runs back to the shore. Rachel goes deeper... (full context)
24. August: Inside the Tears
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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... (full context)
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In the car, Beth explains that she was actually in Las Vegas. Rachel and Beth’s new stepfather was drinking... (full context)
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Rachel, Beth, Max, and Laura all move in with their father. They try to figure out why... (full context)
25. September: The Jester
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...start driving part-time. He complains that the local passengers are “rude and crude,” especially to Beth. There are “people like Beth on every bus” in New York, Bert says, and everyone... (full context)
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...For the rest of the day, every time the bus reaches a stop, Bert tells Beth and Rachel a New York story. When kids threw bricks at his bus on Halloween,... (full context)
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...make their day. Before driving off, he sings one more song: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Beth and Rachel run off the bus. Bert gives Beth a thumbs-up and tells her to... (full context)
26. September: Surgery
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Jacob sings along to the stereo as he drives his car, with Beth in the passenger seat and Rachel in the back. He turns the volume up and... (full context)
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Rather than giving Beth a corneal transplant, which might not work, the doctor will remove the eyelashes that are... (full context)
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Beth’s medical caseworker, a nurse named Mary, helps her with the paperwork. Rachel sees that Mary’s... (full context)
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Rachel follows Beth as the nurse wheels her away to surgery, and she notices that Beth’s eyes look... (full context)
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After the surgery, Beth agrees to follow the doctor’s orders. Jacob spends the whole day with her and Rachel.... (full context)
27. September: Releasing the Rebel
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When Rachel is 17, Beth has just moved back in with their father, and the three of them go to... (full context)
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While her siblings are still angry at their mother, Beth doesn’t seem to care anymore. She goes on with her life, plays with Ringo, and... (full context)
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Beth acts just as badly at school, and after a year, her father pulls her out.... (full context)
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Meanwhile, at home, Beth loudly insists on getting everything her way. Her dad nicknames her “the Sheriff,” and she... (full context)
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Other times in the car, Beth tells her dad about her time with her mother and stepfather in Las Vegas. But... (full context)
28. October: The Hunk
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In the present, while they wait in the bus shelter, Beth tells Rachel about Cliff, a new driver who races cars in his spare time. He’s... (full context)
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...bus drivers have also started to run out of patience—especially Claude, who has started telling Beth that she ought to get a job. Beth talked about Claude’s comments with Cliff, then... (full context)
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...races he drives in on Saturdays. They’re like drag races, held on the local racetrack. Beth tells Rachel about Cliff’s green Mustang, and Cliff jokes about Beth flirting with him. Beth... (full context)
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...grew up with a love of driving, which eventually led him to his bus-driving job. Beth cuts off his story to talk about how drivers and passengers are mean to her.... (full context)
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Cliff tells Beth to chill out—she stops talking for a second, then starts up again. Rachel is furious... (full context)
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When Beth leaves the bus to use the bathroom, Rachel takes Beth’s seat. She’s embarrassed to rely... (full context)
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Rachel gives Beth her seat, and then she realizes what she really fears: Beth has only ever changed... (full context)
29. October: The Price of Being Human
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...lot to the closed gate, which they easily climb over. Rick tells Rachel that, like Beth, she’s sweet, generous, a bit innocent, and open-hearted. Rachel suggests that these qualities also get... (full context)
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...a bridge over a stream and discuss romance, family, and the frustrating work of loving Beth. In the evening, they eat Indian food—which Rick hasn’t tried before but ends up loving.... (full context)
30. October: Come Home, Little Girl
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...first job, Rachel sees a newspaper ad for an Osmonds concert and decides to take Beth. At the concert, Beth is delighted and sings along to every song, while Rachel notices... (full context)
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...mother is lonely and full of shame about her relationship with the abusive conman. After Beth left Las Vegas, he nearly beat Rachel’s mother to death—and then she escaped, too. Rachel... (full context)
31. November: The Girlfriend
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In the present, Beth and the driver Melanie chat about Ricky Martin and the Backstreet Boys, cracking up like... (full context)
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While Beth and Melanie talk about Cliff’s looks, Rachel gazes at her own reflection in the window.... (full context)
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...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.” (full context)
32. November: The Eighteenth Hole
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...writing a book, Laura is succeeding in advertising, and Max is in law school. But Beth spends all of her time watching television in her father’s basement. The whole family worries... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Rachel and Beth’s mother marries a kind, generous factory worker, who helps her work through her fears about... (full context)
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Rachel and Beth’s father signs Beth up for a social services program called a “sheltered workshop.” Soon, she... (full context)
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Rachel and Beth’s father eventually asks Rachel, Laura, and Max to each care for Beth one weekend per... (full context)
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During her first three years in the group home, Beth eventually learns to take the bus to her workshop, makes some friends (including Jesse), and... (full context)
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The next year, when Beth is 32, she decides that she wants to live alone. The family worries about her... (full context)
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...Sam face deep relationship issues and break up, Rachel starts falling out of touch with Beth. Max reports that Beth has started riding buses, and Rachel and Beth start trading letters.... (full context)
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...a magazine article. Then, she sees the full moon out her window and remembers how Beth always said, “Moon’s following us!” This reminds her that some things are impossible to leave... (full context)
33. December: Swans and Witches
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Rachel takes Beth for a makeover, a holiday gift from Bailey and Rick, at “the most patient—and purple—salon... (full context)
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While Beth tells Olivia to go out with Cliff, Olivia does her monthly check-in, asking Beth if... (full context)
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At night, Rachel is delighted that everything is going so well with Beth, and that they haven’t had any arguments. In the morning, Beth doesn’t even go to... (full context)
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Rachel asks Beth for a towel, so that she can take a shower, and Beth replies, “I can’t... (full context)
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Rachel and Beth visit Max, but they barely talk all day. Rachel realizes that this is how her... (full context)
34. December: Finding the Twin
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A few days after their fight, Beth starts sending Rachel apology letters and leaving her voicemail messages. At first, Rachel doesn’t respond.... (full context)
35. December: Iz Gonna Be All Right
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The book flashes back to when Rachel is driving to ride the buses with Beth for the very first time. She passes a familiar stretch of highway—years before, she was... (full context)
36. January: Beyond the Limits of the Sky
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In the present, Rachel drives to Beth’s yearly care planning meeting. She leaves early so that she can take her time on... (full context)
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Rachel realizes that she’s never seen Beth’s melancholy side—but Jesse clearly has. Yet it makes sense that Beth would hide this from... (full context)
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The meeting is in Beth’s apartment, and Vera is absent because she recently had a stroke. Rachel worries about what... (full context)
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The meeting covers Beth’s finances and health, and this makes Rachel start worrying again. Beth is taking even worse... (full context)
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The meeting ends just like the year before: Beth hopes to visit Disney World with Jesse and see her niece and nephew, but she... (full context)
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Rachel follows Beth to the curb and asks whose bus they’re going to ride, but Beth tells her... (full context)
37. A Year and a Half Later: The Miracle Maker
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...that she had stuck behind the glass of her mirror. It’s a congratulations note from Beth, Jesse, and several bus drivers. Rachel thinks about everything that has changed since her year... (full context)
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Most of all, Rachel herself has changed: through her companionship with Beth and her friendship with Rick, she discovered the courage to start dating again. This May... (full context)