Outrage against a mental-health system no longer in service is the guiding force in this pointedly uplifting love story from novelist and memoirist Simon (Riding the Bus with My Sister, 2002, which became a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie) about a deaf African-American man and a mentally disabled woman who meet in a Dickensian mental institution in the 1960s and overcome all obstacles through force of will and spiritual goodness.
In 1968, childless retired schoolteacher Martha briefly gives shelter to Lynnie and Homan, runaways from the residential facility in northern Pennsylvania, until the corrupt head doctor and his henchmen track them down. Homan gets away. Lynnie is taken back in a straightjacket, but the authorities don’t know about her newborn baby, delivered by Homan but the product of a rape. Keeping her promise to Lynnie, Martha hides infant Julia with the help of various former students and eventually raises her as her own granddaughter. Over the next four decades, Homan never ceases to long for Lynnie and the baby. Deaf since a childhood fever, he uses his street smarts, spiritual wisdom and mechanical skills to survive a picaresque series of adventures until he lands in California, where he more than prospers. Meanwhile, Lynnie remains in what she calls “the bad place,” where she was placed as a child by a middle-class parent embarrassed at her lack of cognitive skills. Fortunately, saintly staff member Alice helps Lynnie develop her artistic talent and keeps track of Julia through one of Martha’s students. The publication of an exposé on “the bad place” changes conditions in the late '70s. Gradually Lynnie learns to talk. She reunites with her beloved older sister Hannah, who sells Lynnie’s art in the gallery she runs. Now living independently, Lynnie still longs for Homan and Julia. The question is not if but how they will unite (and why resourceful Homan takes so long).
Despite engaging moments, Simon’s didactic tone strains readers’ patience.