Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister

by

Rachel Simon

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Rachel Simon Character Analysis

The author of Riding the Bus With My Sister is a Philadelphia-based writer in her forties who agrees to spend a year repeatedly visiting her sister Beth and following her around her city on the buses she rides every day. In the book, Rachel uses these journeys to try to understand Beth’s disability, heal their strained relationship, and learn about the politics of disability and accommodation in the contemporary U.S. But the road is far from straightforward: Beth can be extremely stubborn, and many of the most important questions about disability remain unanswered (like how people with intellectual disabilities can make their own informed medical decisions). Rachel’s time with Beth also helps her process the childhood trauma they share and understand how Beth’s lifelong process of development has turned her into the adult she is today. This is why she intersperses stories from their youth with her chronicles about her year with Beth. Finally, the friendships that Rachel forms (and lessons she learns from her new friends) enable her to reevaluate her isolated, workaholic writer’s life. She realizes that she has been undervaluing the relationships in her life because she is afraid of being hurt again (like she was when she broke up with her boyfriend Sam), and she learns to make and maintain the kind of genuine connections that she has let fall by the wayside. At the very end of the book, she uses this newfound knowledge to rekindle her relationship with Sam—and they eventually get married. Thus, Riding the Bus With My Sister is arguably as much about Rachel’s transformation as it is about Beth’s life with her disability.

Rachel Simon Quotes in Riding the Bus with My Sister

The Riding the Bus with My Sister quotes below are all either spoken by Rachel Simon or refer to Rachel Simon. 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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Rachel Simon Character Timeline in Riding the Bus with My Sister

The timeline below shows where the character Rachel Simon 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
Rachel Simon explains that, for privacy reasons, she has changed the names of everyone who appears... (full context)
1. January: The Journey
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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.... (full context)
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Beth guides Rachel down Main Street to McDonald’s, where she buys a coffee, and then to the bus... (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... (full context)
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Unlike Beth, Rachel has always wanted to become “a Somebody who would live a Big Life.” But, during... (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... (full context)
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One winter, Rachel mentioned Beth to her editor, who suggested that she ride the buses with Beth for... (full context)
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Rachel attends Beth’s meeting in January. As usual, Beth is dressed in bright colors, while Rachel... (full context)
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Beth also talks about her relationships with Jesse, the bus drivers, and her family. Rachel notes that the family avoids visiting Beth—they struggle to connect with her, disapprove of her... (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,... (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... (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. Beth calls her case manager Olivia and leaves... (full context)
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Rachel remembers that Jesse visits Beth on evenings and Sunday mornings, and he’s as obsessed with... (full context)
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Rachel dresses in black, as usual, and fills her coat pockets with gear, ranging from tea... (full context)
4. February: The Professor
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At 6 a.m., Beth and Rachel are standing on a corner, watching buses drive past. Beth tells Rachel all about each... (full context)
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...back to the Precambrian period, Beth jokes about his taste for long words. They tell Rachel how an elderly woman once got angry with Beth for taking the best seat, and... (full context)
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Rachel notes that she usually simplifies her sentences for Beth, but she starts wondering if, like... (full context)
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During a brief layover along his route, Tim tells Rachel about his past: he always loved learning and wanted to become a historian, archaeologist, or... (full context)
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Passengers start boarding the bus, and Tim greets each by name. Rachel tries to pay attention to the details: their faces and speech, the bus’s sounds and... (full context)
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...of stores, factories, and theaters. Norma describes meeting her husband at the old park, and Rachel tries to imagine the scene. Meanwhile, a handsome man invites Rachel to go dancing with... (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... (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... (full context)
6. March: The Pilgrim
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On the bus one morning in March, the bus driver Jacob points Rachel ahead to a hill. He explains that, in the past, the old buses weren’t powerful... (full context)
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Rachel has returned to ride with Beth about ten days after her previous visit. Beth found... (full context)
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...woman her bus pass: it says “Zone 1.” Later, after the woman leaves, Jacob tells Rachel that “nothing bothers Beth,” even if some of the elderly passengers are mean to her. (full context)
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...clap together, and the kids see that she’s more fun and accepting than other grown-ups. Rachel envies Beth’s ability to connect with children, and Jacob comments that Beth always knows who’s... (full context)
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...use the bathroom. Jacob promises that he’ll convince her eventually, and he lets her and Rachel off the bus. (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 part of... (full context)
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As Beth and Rachel walk down Main Street, Beth points out a group of prisoners sweeping the streets and... (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... (full context)
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Rachel and Beth arrive at the corner where they’ll catch the bus they’ve missed. Then, Beth... (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;... (full context)
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Another time, the family plays bingo in the basement room that Rachel shares with her older sister Laura. The game helps Beth learn numbers and letters, which... (full context)
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Rachel’s mom and dad both tell their kids that they’ll need to help Beth out and... (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 him. The... (full context)
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Two years later, Rachel’s family moves back to New Jersey. She writes her father an anonymous letter asking him... (full context)
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In sixth grade, a softball player named Chip tells Rachel and Laura that he has a secret. He leads them to a candy store and... (full context)
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One night, while watching television on her mother’s bed, Rachel notices her mother surreptitiously running her hand across her face. On another night, they catch... (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 Rachel what... (full context)
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Rachel asks Rodolpho how he met Beth, and he explains that they met on the night... (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... (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... (full context)
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Beth is still hurt about her issues with Henry. Rachel tells Beth about the importance of setting boundaries, but Beth insists that she doesn’t need... (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... (full context)
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Rachel also likes listening to Beth sing, helping her decorate her room in their new house,... (full context)
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Rachel loves words: at night, she makes lists of synonyms in her notebook. But she also... (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... (full context)
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...hang out with her own friends, since they live far away and have disabilities. Since Rachel doesn’t want to spend time with Beth, she doesn’t have anyone to play with. So... (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... (full context)
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...the townspeople’s racism. They tell Beth that “people should stick with their own kind,” but Rachel can’t imagine two people who fit the same “kind” more so than Beth and Jesse. (full context)
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Rachel and Beth visit Jesse’s apartment, where he’s wearing a white martial arts uniform. He hesitates... (full context)
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...the waitress looks unhappy to see Beth, but she takes her and Jesse’s orders respectfully. Rachel point out that it’s very difficult for most people to decide how to treat developmentally... (full context)
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Rachel notices a bald man glaring at Beth and Jesse from across the restaurant, and she... (full context)
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After Rachel, Beth, and Jesse finish eating, Beth goes to the bathroom, and Rachel asks Jesse what... (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 to reveal... (full context)
Rachel accompanied Beth to all of her medical appointments. She knew that she was doing her... (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 letters, “I wAnt to... (full context)
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One night, Rachel calls a driver named Rick to interview him for an article about Beth and the... (full context)
14. May: The Pursuit of Happiness
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As teenagers, Rachel and her siblings go to a diner with their father and argue about what to... (full context)
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Rachel believes that, once people find happiness, they stay there and never let go of it.... (full context)
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In January, Rachel’s mother tells the children that a new man has asked her out—but he’s a hard-drinking... (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... (full context)
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...people’s stress. Beth goes on talking about Keith, and Estella tells her not to worry. Rachel realizes that Estella helps everyone this way, by simply listening to their concerns. In fact,... (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... (full context)
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...about her boss has sexually harassing her. She wants to quit her job. Estella tells Rachel that when people have serious problems like this, they often see bus drivers like her... (full context)
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Next, Estella tells Rachel about her own hard life. As a teenager, she got married to run away from... (full context)
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...the better, as long as they admit “that [they] might have to lose to win.” Rachel admits that she’s struggling to accept her own insecurities—she can’t stop thinking about Sam and... (full context)
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As Rachel listens to the bus passengers’ conversations, she feels her fears and frustrations briefly melt away.... (full context)
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All the passengers are women, and they all start talking about men and relationships. Rachel wonders if this is the kind of communal life that Americans used to have in... (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... (full context)
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During one of their monthly phone calls, Rachel asks Olivia what her job has taught her about people with intellectual disabilities. Olivia explains... (full context)
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During Rachel’s next visit, Beth spends all day on the buses, talking nonstop about her fights with... (full context)
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...tomorrow, she’s going to yell at a girl who recently criticized her on the bus. Rachel asks Beth why she can’t be kinder, but Beth insists that it doesn’t matter. Rachel... (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... (full context)
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Rachel next learns that many different conditions can cause developmental disability, but the cause is often... (full context)
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Rachel learns that to be classified as intellectually disabled, someone must have an IQ below 75... (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,... (full context)
18. July: The Optimist
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...also hasn’t found the friendship, skills, or sense of purpose that can come with work. Rachel has long tried to convince Beth to volunteer or get a job, but she has... (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... (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... (full context)
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...totally calm and patient, because he knows he can’t do anything to control the situation. Rachel wonders whether she can find the same patience to deal with Beth. Bailey explains how... (full context)
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Rachel realizes that Beth is “the embodiment of self-determination”—she makes her own decisions in life and... (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 day, at last,... (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... (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”... (full context)
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...diverse neighborhood of immigrants, Beth tells Jack about the altercation with the mother and daughter. Rachel and Jack agree that Beth did a great thing by speaking up—Jack compares her to... (full context)
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Rachel states that Beth’s life embodies American democratic values—especially independence. Beth makes her own decisions, regardless... (full context)
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...dreams and hold onto the people they love. He brings out a container and offers Rachel his red beet eggs. Again, she includes Jack’s recipe in the book. (full context)
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...doctor, who finds that she has two rare conditions, which have left her nearly blind. Rachel is frustrated at Beth’s refusal to cooperate with doctors and care for her health. The... (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. Rachel tells... (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,... (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.... (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... (full context)
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Then, the whole group does family activities on the boardwalk. After lunch, Rachel doesn’t want to swim, but everyone else convinces her. She feels exposed in her bathing... (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 Beth will... (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 nonstop, beating their mom, and forcing her and Beth... (full context)
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Rachel, Beth, Max, and Laura all move in with their father. They try to figure out... (full context)
25. September: The Jester
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...Bert sings a goofy rendition of “Happy Birthday to You,” and everyone applauds. Bert tells Rachel that this is his creative way to make his passengers smile. (full context)
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...driving in New York taught him to find creative solutions to any problem. This reminds Rachel about how, as children, she and Beth used to play with the spider webs under... (full context)
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...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, he learned... (full context)
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The bus passes Jesse, who is riding his bike to the highway. This surprises Rachel, but Bert explains that everyone is used to seeing him. At the next stop, Bert... (full context)
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...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 “do the... (full context)
26. September: Surgery
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...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 down while he sings, and he... (full context)
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...two days at home, icing her eyes, but she wants to keep riding buses instead. Rachel knows she can neither force Beth to follow the recovery procedures nor totally honor her... (full context)
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Beth’s medical caseworker, a nurse named Mary, helps her with the paperwork. Rachel sees that Mary’s other client, an elderly woman with intellectual disabilities, is all alone. She... (full context)
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Rachel follows Beth as the nurse wheels her away to surgery, and she notices that Beth’s... (full context)
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...Beth agrees to follow the doctor’s orders. Jacob spends the whole day with her and Rachel. Rodolpho and Rick visit, and after Rachel goes home, Beth finishes her post-op treatment at... (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... (full context)
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...she teases her siblings, refuses to eat fruits and vegetables, and starts telling bald-faced lies. Rachel struggles to square her love for Beth’s originality with her frustration about Beth’s “escalating self-centeredness... (full context)
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...but she hasn’t bothered to contact her children. After learning about this, Laura, Max, and Rachel are furious for years. But Beth seems to forget. One night, when she and her... (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 her new... (full context)
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...always. She pulls out a Mountain Dew for Cliff and gets on his bus. Suddenly, Rachel is scared: she sees the past repeating itself. (full context)
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Chatty, good-looking Cliff tells Rachel about the “grudge” races he drives in on Saturdays. They’re like drag races, held on... (full context)
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...cuts off his story to talk about how drivers and passengers are mean to her. Rachel tries and fails to keep Beth on topic, and she starts to understand why so... (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 and nearly screams at Beth, but she catches herself and walks to the... (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 so much on life advice from bus drivers,... (full context)
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Rachel gives Beth her seat, and then she realizes what she really fears: Beth has only... (full context)
29. October: The Price of Being Human
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For their first date, Rick takes Rachel out to a golf course on a rainy Sunday. It’s closed, but Rick wants to... (full context)
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Rick and Rachel stop on a bridge over a stream and discuss romance, family, and the frustrating work... (full context)
30. October: Come Home, Little Girl
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In Rachel’s senior year of college, she finally goes to a therapist, explains that she lives in... (full context)
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Later, at her first job, Rachel sees a newspaper ad for an Osmonds concert and decides to take Beth. At the... (full context)
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Rachel returns to her dreadful job as a paralegal. She feels depressed, creatively stunted, and paralyzed... (full context)
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During the following year, Rachel and her mother start to meet. Rachel learns that her mother is lonely and full... (full context)
31. November: The Girlfriend
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
32. November: The Eighteenth Hole
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By the time Rachel and her siblings are in their twenties, Rachel is writing a book, Laura is succeeding... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Rachel and Beth’s mother marries a kind, generous factory worker, who helps her work through her... (full context)
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Rachel and Beth’s father signs Beth up for a social services program called a “sheltered workshop.”... (full context)
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Rachel and Beth’s father eventually asks Rachel, Laura, and Max to each care for Beth one... (full context)
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...an interest in her family members’ lives. She stops seeing her mom and dad, and Rachel feels her critical “dark voice” latching onto all of Beth’s failures and imperfections. (full context)
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While Rachel and Sam face deep relationship issues and break up, Rachel starts falling out of touch... (full context)
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One night, Rachel tosses and turns in bed as she struggles to come up with an idea for... (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... (full context)
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...if she’s happy with the services she’s receiving. Olivia takes a photo of Beth with Rachel, but Beth doesn’t smile—she doesn’t want to look glamorous. Her mood improves as soon as... (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... (full context)
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Rachel asks Beth for a towel, so that she can take a shower, and Beth replies,... (full context)
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Rachel and Beth visit Max, but they barely talk all day. Rachel realizes that this is... (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. But after two... (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... (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... (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... (full context)
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...meeting is in Beth’s apartment, and Vera is absent because she recently had a stroke. Rachel worries about what will happen to Vera—and what will happen to Beth once her caregivers... (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 care of herself than she did before.... (full context)
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...ends the meeting; she has to catch Melanie’s bus. Everyone takes the elevator downstairs, and Rachel thanks Beth’s caregivers. (full context)
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Rachel follows Beth to the curb and asks whose bus they’re going to ride, but Beth... (full context)
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Then, Rachel gets into her own car and drives to Rick’s house. He’s home, and he’s delighted... (full context)
37. A Year and a Half Later: The Miracle Maker
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On a special afternoon in May, Rachel finds an old card that she had stuck behind the glass of her mirror. It’s... (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... (full context)