Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister is a memoir by Rachel Simon, published in 2002 by Houghton Mifflin about the time she spent with her sister Beth, who has a developmental disability, whose lifestyle revolves around riding buses in her home city.


The memoir is about Simon's relationship with her sister Beth, who has an intellectual disability and who spends her days riding the fixed route buses in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania where she lives. Beth also lives independently, has a boyfriend named Jesse, and receives supports from two caring Direct Support Professionals, Vera and Olivia. Rachel is a busy writer and professor who loves her sister, but by the time they are in their late thirties, they've grown apart. When Beth asks Rachel to ride the buses with her for a year, Rachel reluctantly agrees. The book chronicles that year, during which Rachel befriends the bus drivers, Jesse, and Olivia, and learns about such key civil rights issues as self-determination and People-first language. The story in the present alternates with the story of the sisters' tumultuous family history, which also presents the struggles and pleasures of siblings of people with disabilities.

Film adaptation

Riding the Bus with My Sister
Directed byAnjelica Huston
Produced bySherri Saito
Written bynovel Rachel Simon
teleplay Joyce Eliason
StarringRosie O'Donnell
Andie MacDowell
Music byStewart Copeland
CinematographyAnthony B. Richmond
Edited byRoberto Silvi
Blue Ridge Motion Pictures
Distributed byHallmark Channel
Release date
  • May 1, 2005 (2005-05-01) (U.S.)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States

In 2005, the book was adapted into a television film for CBS in which Rosie O'Donnell appears as Beth, a woman with an intellectual disability, who is dependent on her father. When her father dies, her sister, played by Andie MacDowell, comes to stay with her. At first, they fight about Beth's rampant consumption of junk food, resulting in bringing her cholesterol levels up, but after six months Rachel realizes that Beth is content with her life.

Many aspects of the book were altered for the film. These include turning Rachel into a fashion photographer, eliminating an older sister and changing the name of the brother, and having the sisters' father die early in the story (whereas, in real life, he was still alive when the movie aired). The civil rights aspect of the story was also less explicit, the backstory was compressed, both characters were presented as more extreme than they are in the book, and several other characters were composites.

Simon has said of the movie: "It's a poignant, moving, and powerful film. It also portrays both characters, as well as the struggles of the special sibling relationship, in a more realistic way than we usually get to see in film, and presents bus drivers as the everyday heroes that I now know them to be. In addition, the movie highlights some of the main themes from my book: Beth's right to live her life by her own choices, the importance of public transportation for a fully independent life, the essential need for friendships in the community, and the challenges and rewards of the sibling bond."[1]

The film was directed by Anjelica Huston and filmed in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.[2]



Unlike the book, the film received negative reviews. O'Donnell's performance as Beth has been criticized for being "over the top.[3][4][5] Some even stating that she sounded like Pee-Wee Herman."[6]



  1. http://www.rachelsimon.com/faq.php#movie
  2. Riding the Bus With My Sister - The Movie - Interviews on YouTube
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-08. Retrieved 2015-02-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. Heffernan, Virginia (2005-04-29). "A Misfit Sister, and Life Lessons She Inadvertently Imparts". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-01-17.
  5. Owen, Rob (1 May 2005). "TV Review: 'Riding the Bus' lurches along a well-worn route". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  6. Lowry, Brian (28 April 2005). "Riding the Bus With My Sister TV Show Review". Variety.

Gilmore Girls Season 6 Episode 4 “Always a Godmother never a God” Lorelei has the movie on VHS and will not get rid of it until the fight between her and Rory is settled

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