Memoir, Non-Fiction, Simon-Rachel, social commentary

#543 Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon

Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel SimonRiding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon

Rachel is going through a hard part of her life. She’s broken up with her boyfriend. She doesn’t quite know where to put the pieces of her life. She does go and visit her sister though.

Her sister’s name is Beth and Beth is a person who has a developmental disability. Surprisingly, Beth lives on her own. She has her own apartment. She buys her own food. She picks out her own clothes and does all of her own things. This is not altogether surprising to Rachel though.

Growing up, Rachel’s family knew Beth was different, but they vowed never to put her in an institution. They pushed for her to read and have as normal of a life as possible. As a result, Beth grows into a person who can live on her own. This says a lot about how treating a person with a developmental disability as a person can go a long way to how that person lives their life.

The strange thing about Beth is what she likes to do all day, six days a week. Beth rides the buses. She gets on the city bus in the morning and rides all day long. She hops onto different buses. She knows each of the divers. She has their bus schedules memorized. She gives them presents. She knows where all the good bathrooms are. Many of the drivers are dear friends to Beth while others think she should get a job.

Beth asks Rachel to ride the buses with her for a year, every couple of weeks. Rachel agrees. Rachel soon learns the world of Beth. She learns how amazing it is that Beth can memorize so much about buses. She learns that Beth is not emotionally stupid. Beth is well-versed in trying to get people to take her side and persuade people to do things. Rachel also sees the prejudice that Beth is treated with. People don’t like her on the bus, especially some of the older people it seems. People are uncomfortable around her.

Rachel’s journeys with Beth drive her to learn about the world of people with developmental disabilities. She learns about people first language, which strives to cast people with disabilities as people rather than just their disabilities. Through it all, Rachel learns to be a bit more loving and patient herself.

What I liked

My youngest brother is autistic. I know what Rachel has gone through in her life. I’ve been there. We need books like Rachel’s to show the rest of the world how people with various disabilities are treated. People have this tendency to overlook people with disabilities. People talk down to people with disabilities. They see them as not people.

Let me tell you something–I used to work in a nursing home. I took care of plenty of people with disabilities. The person that comes to mind was a woman who had Cerebral Palsy. Look, people looked down on her. People overlooked her. You know what–she was just fine. She had her own thoughts. She was an adult. She had her own emotions. She was a person.

I applaud efforts by anyone to get the world to realize that just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they’re not a person.

What I didn’t like

Here’s the thing, while it’s great to give people with disabilities their individuality, there is this line you’re not entirely sure how to cross or even if you should cross it. You want this person to be their own person and you encourage them to do as much for themselves as possible, but they may not be making the best decisions for themselves. We can argue all we want about how people with various disabilities should be on their own, making their own choices, but there is one thing you can’t ignore; they simply don’t have the same reasoning as the rest of us, and as result they may make poor choices.

It’s an ethical dilemma. Do you force a person to eat a salad because their blood pressure is through the roof, or do you let them be their own person and eat a bag of M&Ms for supper? We’re in a stage of society, where we want people with disabilities to do as much as possible on their own. If they want to eat five family-sized bags of M&Ms, you let them.

You can only do so much. You have to let this person make their own choices, but at the same time, you’re concerned about them. You know they should be going to the doctor and brushing their teeth, but you can’t force them to do those things.

Bringing this back around to the book, Beth makes some bad choices. Her family wants her not to make these choices, but they can’t force her. They would like for her to have a job, and honestly, it’s awfully unproductive of her not to have a job, but they can’t make her do that. For me, I’m not overly impressed with Beth’s decision to spend her days riding the bus. People, even people with disabilities, need something productive to fill their time with.


I enjoyed this look into Beth’s life and Rachel’s along with it.

Weigh In

How do you feel when someone you love is making a bad choice, but you know you can’t stop them?

Do you think you could ride buses all day, every day?


2 thoughts on “#543 Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon”

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