What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there's nothing of concern here -- and much to be celebrated, particularly the main character's introspectiveness.
What's the story?
Catherine's brother, David, is autistic, and their family life revolves around his needs. Catherine loves her brother and cares enough about him to attempt to help him by compiling lists of rules for living like an ordinary person: "If someone says 'hi,' you say 'hi' back." "If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over)!"
But Catherine is also frustrated and embarrassed by David and by the way her needs seem secondary, if not nonexistent, to her family. When a girl her age moves in next door, Catherine hopes to be friends but worries that David will ruin the relationship. And her growing friendship with a mute paraplegic boy makes things even more complicated.
Is it any good?
Written by the mother of an autistic child, RULES has the ring of authenticity -- this is a clear-eyed, unsentimental look at a real family problem. Two things raise it above the usual run of "problem" novels. One is Catherine's relationship with Jason, a paraplegic boy who taps on picture cards to communicate. Catherine begins creating illustrated word cards for his book; choosing words and pictures becomes a way for her to look at her own life, to assess and then respond and express her thoughts and feelings.
The other is the poignant way David sometimes communicates -- through memorized sections of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books. Their mother disapproves, wanting David to use his own words instead of quoting someone else's. But David chooses pieces that are metaphorically and expressively appropriate, and when he and Catherine engage in one of their delicate Frog-and-Toad dialogues, it's lovely enough to bring a lump to your throat.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about autism. What is it? What would it be like to live with an autistic person? What might it be like to be autistic? Children may want to know more about it -- see the Related Books and Media section below for some helpful links. Also, kids might be interested in compiling their own lists of rules for daily living.