RULES by Cynthia Lord

What a wonderful book.  I wish this could be on the required reading list for 5th, 6th or 7th graders everywhere (it might already be at some schools – I have no idea!). 

…I keep re-writing this review…my words aren’t doing it justice…

This book tells the story of approximately a month in a 12-year old girl’s life.  She’s a pretty typical 12 year old girl, only she has an autistic 8 year old brother.  She feels her family’s world revolves around him and she alternates between trying to protect him and wanting to get as far away from him as she can.  She writes “rules” for him in the back of her sketch pad.

“That’s where I keep all the rules I’m teaching David so if my ‘someday-he’ll-wake-up-a-regular-brother’ wish doesn’t ever come true, at least he’ll know how the world works…”

The author helps Catherine put words to her emotions through a new friend – Jason, a paraplegic the girl meets at her brother’s occupational therapy sessions.  Jason can’t talk and relies on his communication book – he taps at the words in his book to form sentences.  They meet when Catherine is busted trying to sketch him and he gets upset.  As they get to know each other, Catherine starts making illustrated words for his book so that they can talk to each other.  She begins using this as an outlet to share her feelings regarding life with her brother. 

Again… words escape me.  This book had me in tears last night. 

After an encounter with her brother and the neighborhood bully – in front of her new “popular” friend, no less – Catherine runs to her room and writes down many new words for Jason. “Murky” was the one that required the most explanation.  She explained that there’s a pond she and her friends like to visit, and the bottom is covered in mud, old leaves and pine needles.  She and her friends often dare each other to dive down to the bottom and bring back a handful of this murky mud and leaves as proof that they made it.  When she dives down, she says her foot sinks into the murky stuff at the bottom – up to her ankle – and just when she feels she’s almost out of breath and afraid the murkiness might not let her go this time, she rushes to the top and feels the exhilaration of fresh air.  She explains to Jason that sometimes with her brother, she feels like she won’t make it back up – she’ll be sucked down instead.

Jason responds by confessing that he sometimes wishes he was dead, which upsets her. He explains that he feels incomplete.  He dreams of running and asks her what that’s like.  After trying to explain it, she decides to take him for a run instead.  His mother is wary, but allows it.  She takes him outside in his wheelchair and runs as fast as she can, until she hits that runner’s high feeling.  Even bound to his chair, he feels it, too.

The author does a wonderful job of juxtaposition with Jason vs. Catherine’s brother David.  One has physical abilities, the other has mental ability.  Catherine battles with what matters more – her own feelings or the opinions of others.  In the end, she decides that her friendship with Jason and her love for her brother take precedence over what others might think or say.

I saw many similarities between Colin and the character David.  At this point, Ryan and Robbie don’t seem to ever be embarrassed by Colin, which is good.  I worry that won’t always be the case.  I hope we can raise them to understand that friendship and love are more important than what small-minded people think and say. 

One of the “Rules” Catherine made for David struck a chord with me:

Sometimes people laugh when they like you. But sometimes they laugh to hurt you.

I read this out loud to Rick.  He agreed that’s something we both worry about Colin facing as he gets older.  We have zero tolerance for bullying in our house – from anyone – but what can you do to protect your kids outside the home? 

Colin and Ryan are in the same grade.  I hate to put something so heavy on a 7 year old’s shoulders, but I hope Ryan will always try to protect his brother.  I know it won’t always be easy.  I hope we can raise Robbie and Ryan to understand that it’s never okay to make fun of someone for being different – that standing up for the people you love is more important than following the crowd.

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