Now that I’ve finished Rules, I’m 3/4 done with my Newbery/Newbery Honor reads. Of the three I’ve read (The Higher Power of Lucky*, Penny from Heaven*, and Rules), Rules is my favorite. Its protagonist, Catherine, is an introspective middle schooler who has an 8-year-old autistic brother, David. Catherine wishes her brother’s autism would just melt away and he would be a brother like everyone else’s brother. Like all middle schoolers, Catherine struggles with blending in, and–because David is doesn’t pick up on social rules from watching people–her family often sticks out. Her parents say people don’t mind David’s odd behavior. Catherine insists that they do.
But, even while she sometimes resents David for all the attention he sucks from her parents and because he makes her feel awkward in front of her peers, Catherine and David do share a special kind of love. David feels safest when they are reciting dialogue from Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel, and I enjoyed those exchanges between the two siblings very much. I read on author Cynthia Lord’s website that she has an autistic son herself. Details like Frog and Toad really ring true. You can tell Lord really knows her stuff!
Meanwhile, at David’s occupational therapy appointment, Catherine makes friends with Jason, who is in a wheelchair and can only communicate by using word cards. Cynthia Lord wonderfully contrasts Catherine and Jason’s friendship with the friendship Catherine tries to form with her new next door neighbor, Kristi. Somehow, Catherine and Jason “gel” much more than Catherine and Kristi do. Jason’s friendship comes almost effortlessly, but with Kristi, Catherine tries hard to be “cool.” We all remember those days, and it is almost painful to read.
The extra details in this book really make it special for me. The Maine setting is fully established, as are the details of Catherine’s life, like how she organizes her room and her love of drawing. Catherine talks about how she enjoys turning over each new month of her Georgia O’Keefe calendar and that she has a small clothespin on the bottom of the calendar so that she doesn’t “cheat” and look ahead. I, too, LOVE turning over a new, fresh calendar page each month and I appreciate the details Lord puts in her book.
As I’m writing about this book, I’m thinking about just how MUCH is in it. I keep thinking: “Oh, I have to write about that! Oh, and that!” Rules is chock full of themes: family, friends, disabilities, acceptance. Rules would be a great book for a school book club or an English class. It’s a fun, quick read with great characters. But it also lends itself to great discussion! Go get yourself some Rules!
Oh, and one more thing: maybe it’s because of the seashore setting, but Rules really reminds me of Olive’s Ocean* by Kevin Henkes. Both are award-winning and both are gems. Get them together!
Side Note: I think I enjoyed Rules so much because I really relate to Catherine. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I relate to a lot of young female characters in middle grade fiction. Why is it that so many protagonists are shy and love reading? Maybe because authors bring their own experiences to their writing. Just for a change of pace, I’d like a story told from the point of view of a “popular” middle school girl who is athletic and has shiny hair. I know what it’s like to be a shy and bookish child. What’s it like to be outgoing and popular? Are there any books about those kids?
*Yuma County Library book