By Cynthia Lord
Scholastic Press, 2006
Rules is a Children's/Young Adult novel that focuses on dealing with disabled family and peers. It also happens to be a pretty good story, so it has been quite popular with teachers and children for eight years and counting, and has won a handful of awards, including the 2007 Newbery award and the 2007 Schneider Family Book Award.
Catherine is a fairly normal 12-year-old, but her younger brother is not normal -- he has autism, and requires constant supervision. And lots of rules. David doesn't figure out the rules of normal behavior the way other people do, and Catherine tries to help him out by writing down rules -- "If someone says 'hi', you say 'hi' back"; "If the bathroom door is closed, knock"; "No toys in the fish tank".
Taking care of David can be annoying, but her real worry starts when a new girl moves in next door. Catherine is used to her friends at school making accommodations (or not) for David, but she doesn't want her summer with a potential new friend ruined by David's weirdness. She tries her best to keep David from having too many interactions with Kristi, but there's only so much you can do avoid a next door neighbor, and David is no help whatsoever. But Kristi seems pretty much okay with David, and things aren't as bad as Catherine has feared that they might be. Unfortunately, Kristi is also becoming good friends with one of the boys who likes to tease David, which is not okay.
And on top of this, Catherine has met another friend -- but definitely (probably) not a boyfriend -- who is stuck in a wheelchair and uses a communication book to communicate. It's bad enough when people stare at David, but having people stare at her and Jason is worse. After all, Jason knows what normal is, and notices when people stare (although not nearly as much as Catherine does). He also notices when Catherine acts weird around him, and she is starting to realize that she does act weird around him, and that she does not want to.
This is a very good book, and does a good job of describing fairly typical mild-to-moderately severe autism in terms that a middle-schooler can understand. It also does a good job showing how many people, adults included, treat people with disabilities, and spends a lot of time on Catherine coming to terms with this. None of which gets in the way of the story, a fairly straight-forward but well written story of getting along with friends, maybe-sort-of dating, and dealing with pre-teen awkwardness.
I think that I can safely recommend this book to most readers between the ages of 10-15. It is not the most exciting novel, but it is well written and engaging, with a good bit of humor and not too much in the way of embarrassment, preachy lessons, or girly stuff. At 200 pages and 13-point type, it is fairly short, but long enough to let the reader get into the story. It may be a bit brief for adult readers, but if you like children's literature or are interested in disabilities as presented to children it is worth reading, and a very satisfying story.
Accelerated Reader Level: 3.9