Kitchen Table Reviews: Rules

Mir and the Kids review a tale about appreciating everyone, even when it's difficult.

Being a twelve-year-old girl is hard enough, but Catherine has plenty of extra help in the “life’s not fair” department: Her little brother, David, is autistic; her parents are always busy tending to him; and her best friend is spending the summer away in California. Now there’s a new family with a girl her age moving in next door, but Catherine’s finding it harder than ever to find “normal,” whatever that is.

Me: What did you two think of this one? Did you like it?
Daughter: I thought it was really good.
Son: Yeah, it was pretty good. Except why did David always go tell her “No toys in the fish tank!” after he’d already dropped something in the tank?
Me: That was his way of telling Catherine he’d put something in and knew it needed to come out. Sometimes people who are autistic don’t communicate the same way we do.
Son: But if he knew it was the rule, why did he keep doing it?
Me: Because he couldn’t help it. Like with a lot of the other stuff Catherine describes, David knows it’s not right, but he feels compelled to do it. And that often embarrasses his sister.
Daughter: I like how she describes the stuff he puts in, like how she thinks the Barbie doll is waving to Ken. That was neat, how she could see stuff being funny even when she was upset.
Me: Do you think Catherine’s life is hard?
Son: Well, she has a lot to deal with.
Daughter: I think it’s kind of hard—not everyone understands about her brother, and her parents seem pretty busy with him a lot of the time.

We then talked about why Kristi, the new neighbor, might act the way that she does. The consensus was that Kristi was not a very happy person.

Me: What was the best part of this book?
Son: When Catherine started making new cards for Jason [a teen she meets at David’s therapy who uses a communication book, as he cannot talk] to use, and she made him one that said “STINKS A BIG ONE!” And then when he used it.
Daughter: I liked the end.
Me: We can’t give it away, but did you think the ending felt real? Like it could’ve happened that way?
Daughter: Yeah, it did. Catherine really struggled, but in the end she did what she wanted and she felt good about it.
Me: But she broke a rule, right?
Daughter: I think part of what she learned is that sometimes you have to break the rules.

I think maybe we learned that, too.

Pros: Realistic, likable protagonist. No sugar-coating the realities of navigating life with those who are different. Personal growth isn’t always easy, but it’s good.

Cons: The phrase “Stinks a big one.” Parents who don’t pay attention. Toys in the fish tank.

Rules gets three thumbs up and some really interesting follow-up discussions about rules and tolerance from our kitchen table.