"A heartfelt and witty debut about feeling different and finding acceptance-- beyond the rules.
Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She's spent years trying to teach David the rules-- from 'a peach is not a funny looking apple' to 'keep your pants on in public'-- in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?"
I read this book with the boy I tutor during the week. Normally when we read together, I think the books he picks don't normally engage either of us, but this book was a gold nugget among middle school reading duds.
While I'm curious about what goes on in the mind of someone with autism, I think, as Catherine points out just by being a character in this story, the family of someone with autism matters too. They still need to be heard and listened to even if their needs might not be as high.
I thought it was really sweet that Catherine tried to help her brother in a way that he could understand through the creation of rules. Catherine and David have this really special connection than he has with anyone. I'd even go so far as to say that it's more powerful than the connection David has with either of his parents.
I love this book, but a number of things bothered me (but in a way that I think helped make the story better). The dad bothered me. I'm sure he works hard, but he didn't seem to make nearly the effort that Catherine's mother or Catherine herself makes on behalf of David. He wouldn't arrive when he said that he would arrive where he needed to be. Like when he was coming home from work, it's not that he'd be a minute or two late. I find that understandable. But he would show up half an hour, forty-five minutes, or even an hour later than when he promised. That's entirely unfair and he knows how important promises are to his son. Why would he do that? And speaking of parents, I hate that Catherine has sole responsibility for David when either parent is not available. That's not inherently wrong, but it's often at the expense of Catherine as it's often rather last minute that this responsibility is given to her. I was so angry when Catherine was trying hard to become friends with Kristi (although she is rather manipulative and just plain no fun, so I don't think she'd make a good friend anyway), the girl next door, and suddenly she is asked to watch David. That hardly seems fair and it's a complete disregard for what would be good for Catherine at the time. Her parents are so unthinking it feels like...
And then my favorite part. Catherine's relationship with Jason. Jason is really sweet and I love that she makes the effort to communicate with him even when it can take an extra step to do so. She showed him that his personhood matters and went so far as to make more communication cards that are more age appropriate for him (rather than just regular cards with hum-drum words). Jason was able to express frustration and just generally what he was feeling with the help of Catherine's cards. Every time I read an interaction between these two, my heart warmed and sped up with happiness. I don't think you could find a sweeter pair out there.
Overall, this is a great book for younger readers and it's good if you're a parent reading with your child. It's a good read if you're interested in learning more about developmental disabilities and how you can honor the personhood of those living with these conditions. It's a fantastic read.
I give 'Rules':