RULES, by Cynthia Lord, is the story of 12-year-old Catherine, whose life is defined in large part by her relationship with her autistic younger brother David. David is unable to intuit the rules of acceptable behavior, the way that other people are, and Catherine has to come up with a list of rules for him. She has other rules of her own, and these are used for chapter titles in the book.
According to her bio, Cynthia Lord is the mother of two children, one of whom has autism. Her real-world experience in, as she puts it, "living with someone who sees the world so differently than I do" allows her to give Catherine's character authenticity. Catherine rails against both her parents and fate for the problems that she has to deal with in caring for her brother. She laments especially the way David gets so much more parental attention than she does. Despite her frustration, however, she also loves her brother, and has a special bond with him that's unique to the two of them. I love the way they converse with one another using lines from Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel.
As if Catherine's life wasn't complicated enough by her brother, she befriends a boy of her own age named Jason. Jason is in a wheelchair, and is unable to speak. His brain is all there, though, and he communicates by pointing at little cards in a communication book. Catherine, a budding artist, makes him more cards for his book, so that he can have a wider of range of things to talk about. She only gradually comes to see Jason as a person, and a potential friend, rather than as some sort of charity project. In some ways, her relationship with her brother has prepared her for having a friendship with someone else who is different and has trouble communicating. On the other hand, she struggles with having yet another association that makes her seem unusual to the other kids in the neighborhood.
I found RULES a fascinating window into the world of having a sibling with autism. It makes having normal rambunctious younger brothers and sisters seem easy by comparison (though it certainly didn't seem easy when I was twelve). It evokes humor and sympathy, and it explores sticking up for yourself and others vs. fitting in. I think that it will be a hit with 9 to 12 year olds, especially those with pesky younger brothers and sisters, or who have things about their families that make them different. And who doesn't, when you look deep enough?
My thanks to Cynthia Lord for sending me a signed copy of RULES. You can find Cindy's website here, with a detailed biography of her life as a writer (and pictures). Her ever entertaining blog is here.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.