This was part of my goal to read every Newbery book (this one took honors), and I finished it in one sitting. I started it the last evening of 2012 and enjoyed it enough to forego watching the ball drop. I turned the last page in the earliest hours of 2013. I knew this book had won wide acclaim, but had no idea what it was about. Turns out it shares a similar theme with Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine.
Catherine is a normal twelve-year-old girl who would like a normal life, but having a younger brother with autism means nothing is normal. David blurts out odd phrases at inopportune times. He opens cupboard doors at other people’s houses and hunts for their cellars to make sure the door is closed. He embarrasses Catherine and makes a simple thing like inviting the new neighbor girl over not so simple at all. He must be taught the social graces that the rest of us so naturally assume. So Catherine takes it upon herself to help him by creating a list of rules.
Chew with your mouth closed.
Say “thank you” when someone gives you a present (even if you don’t like it).
If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over)!
No toys in the fish tank.
A character like David can easily alienate a reader with no basis to relate, but David actually became my favorite. He evokes a great deal of sympathy with a few cute quirks. For instance, every time he puts a toy in the fish tank, he burst into Catherine’s room and tells her, “No toys in the fish tank!” (See, he hates to be wet, and he needs her to take it out.) And every time Catherine’s guinea pigs squeal, he covers his ears and yells, “Quiet pigs!” And my favorite, my absolute favorite quirk is that whenever he can’t find the words he needs, he quotes Frog and Toad, a classic easy reader written by Arnold Lobel.
“‘“What are you laughing at, Frog?”’” David asks, worried lines cutting his forehead.
I touch the tiny frog stamp on his hand and show him mine. “‘“I’m laughing at you, Toad,” said Frog, “because you do look funny in your bathing suit.”’”
David smiles. “‘“Of course I do,” said Toad. Then he picked up his clothes and went home.”’
I feel like I got to know David, and I loved him. But the story focuses on Catherine and her changing emotion from anger and embarrassment to acceptance. And she does this with the help of Jason, a wheelchair-bound boy she befriends who can’t talk. The person under the handicap, she realizes, is a person worthy of love and respect. Rules is a moving, well-written story any way you look at it, one I’d highly recommend.