I have a peculiar fascination for the welfare of patients in mental institutions prior to the sweeping reforms after Geraldo Rivera (of all people) blew the doors off the atrocities occurring at Willowbrook State School. (You should Google that -- my esteem for Rivera jumped a million-fold). My fascination is not a morbid fascination, but a fascination born from a desire to have been there to make a difference. In high school, I volunteered at what was then called a nursing home, visiting old men and women who had no family, and even then, in the late '80s, I saw things that as a teenager I knew shouldn't be happening.
Enter this book. A deaf man and a woman who has lost her voice and has a developmental disability escape from a School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. The woman gives birth during their escape and the two find brief respite with a kind retired school teacher before they're tracked down. The man escapes, the woman is dragged back to the institution, and the baby is hidden. The young woman is able to pull two words roughly out of her throat -- "Hide her" -- to the school teacher.
Thus follows twenty-odd years following these people's lives. Some of it is inspiring, and some of it is heart-breaking. All of it is worth reading.