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Rules
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129 of 136 people found the following review helpful
When you read a bad book, the aftermath of the experience can leave you shell-shocked for quite a long period of time. Not too long ago I came across the regrettable "The Boy Who Ate Stars" by Kochka and I had a hard time recovering. Kochka, in my view, approached the subject of autism in children as a kind of wild kids-in-touch-with-their-animal side type of story. The whole project left me disappointed and wary of any books written with child audiences in mind that dealt with autism. But then I saw "RULES" and I became sorely tempted to give it a go. From its thoroughly engaging cover (you hear me publishers?) to its incredible characters, smart plotting, and all around classy style, I would recommend this book to any and every child I ran across. This is how it's done people. This is how you write a first novel.

Now where to begin? I suppose if you asked Catherine herself she'd begin with David. Everyone else seems to after all. David's eight and autistic. I'm sure you've heard stories of autistic children and the difficulties they have dealing with the world around them, but has anyone ever stopped to consider the problems their older sisters face? Sisters like Catherine who'd do anything to have a "normal" life with a "normal" little brother. Not that Catherine isn't a good sister to David. She's constantly creating rules for him that will, ideally, help him deal with the real world. Now a new girl has moved in next door to Catherine and her family. She would love to make Kristi a friend, but there's always the threat that this new girl would be overly freaked out by David. And then there's Jason, the wheelchair bound boy she knows from Jason's occupational therapy visits. Pretty soon Catherine's going to have to decide what kind of a friend she's really looking for. And the answer may not be the one she has either expected or wanted.

Lord cleverly begins each chapter heading with one of the rules Catherine has concocted for David's convenience. Of course, not all the rules apply to David. Some of them are the kids of things Catherine has come up with to get by in life. For example there's, "If you don't want to do something, say, `Hmmm. I'll think about it' and maybe the asker will forget the whole bad idea". My favorite chapter heading? The one that completely does away with any pretense that these rules are actually for David. In short, "Pantless brothers are not my problem". Nuff said.

One of the many things I loved about this book was how Lord chose to present David. I am so sick of the autistic/handicapped/mentally challenged children's book character that has to act out the standard saintly two-dimensional role too long carved out in literature. David is a real kid. Yeah, he has autism. Sure. But he also cares deeply for his sister, even to the point where he can engage in a little fishtank-related mischief on the side. Catherine has a rule that there should be no toys in the fish tank. Yet turn around for half a second and there goes David tossing a Barbie or other toy in the briny depths. Younger brother annoyances pure and simple. And Catherine, for her part, is just as real a kid. Do you think she wants to constantly hang out with and babysit her little brother when she'd rather be out getting a new best friend? Heck no! Her attitude towards her little brother is incredibly realistic. On the one hand she'd love it if, "someone would invent a pill so David'd wake up one morning without autism". But then she's really a good sister who willingly tags along to her brother's occupational therapy sessions.

Some people I've discussed "RULES" with were a little put out that Lord never comes and out says why Jason is the way he is. He sound paraplegic to me, but that's just a guess. Also, it was very interesting how Lord chose to have Catherine want desperately to have Kristi as a friend, even though her real best friend would be back at the end of the summer. Why didn't the book make Catherine one hundred percent friendless? Would that have made her seem too desperate or pandering for attention? Hard to say.

In the end, the real key to the charm of "RULES" is the book's accessibility. This is a fun read. A fun, not too long, not too drawn out read. It doesn't preach and it doesn't simplify. What it does do is present an original story from a unique perspective. I would be intrigued to hear what real siblings of autistic children think of Lord's work. One of the rare well-written works of literature for young 'uns that kids may actually want to read and reread. In the same class as, "Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key".
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 29, 2006
This is the kind of book I want to see more of because it is a realistic look not only at autistic behavior, but at the confusion rules cause for many people with autism.

Catherine, 12 has a younger brother who has autism. David, 8 has difficulty expressing himself verbally; he does not understand the Tacit Social Codes & Rules. Catherine teaches him basic things such as chewing with his mouth closed; not putting toys in the fish tank and not running off when something unrelated catches his attention. Catherine keeps a notebook full of rules to help her brother. She helps David express himself and "find his own voice," in a manner of speaking.

Two other people influence Catherine. One is Kristi, a popular seemingly has it all together girl and a boy who is paraplegic. The boy attends the same occupational therapy clinic as David. In some very poignantly introspective moments, Catherine discovers that the boy is a true friend. She and he share some funny moments when she writes communication cards for his communication book; nonverbal, the boy depends on a book and pad to communicate. He and Catherine care about each other; they share values and similar experiences. The bond between the two is heartwarming and extends to David.

Kristi in turn also proves to be a friend.

Please read this book. Please read it and share it with somebody. You will be very glad that you did.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 31, 2007
As the parent of an autism spectrum kid, I sit here desperate to communicate just how deeply this book moved me. Ms. Lord does an amazing job of capturing the autistic family. I say family rather than child, because autism affects everyone in the child's life and not just the individual. It can be very hard to feel normal when at home everything revolves around a person with special needs.

Our protagonist,Catherine, is a sweet, somewhat shy girl who loves to draw. She alternates between acting as her autistic brother's protector and being embarrassed by his behavior. David is four years younger than Catherine and obsessive about Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad. A particularly poignant touch is the way that Catherine and David communicate with eachother by reciting lines from these classic friendship stories. My son often used lines from computer games to communicate when he was younger, as he couldn't understand that others did not have the same frame of reference. This sort of attention to detail is what allows Lord to tell her story so realistically.

The characters are all richly painted and believeable. I'd like to call Catherine's mom and invite her over for tea. I'd tell her that it's ok to bring David; I don't mind if he pokes in my closets. :)

This is a story about embracing differences and accepting people as they are. I highly recommend it for both boys and girls aged ten to adult.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2006
I read this aloud to my two boys, 10 and 8, and they really, really enjoyed it, despite the main character being a girl. They were fascinated by the character of Jason and Catherine's struggles to deal with her mixed feelings about him, her brother, and life in general. It led to many good discussions and the story really drew them in. Very good writing too. We would welcome more from Cynthia Lord.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2006
When a 12-year-old girl moves in next-door, Catherine hopes life will finally seem normal. She longs to be an ordinary girl doing regular girl things--riding her bike and swimming in the pond with her best friend. Instead, life revolves around her brother David and his autism.

To help David avoid embarrassing situations, she keeps a running list of rules-things like: "Chew with your mouth closed" and "If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over)!"

Catherine goes with her mom to David's occupational therapy sessions. In the waiting area, she meets Jason, a boy who uses a wheelchair and communicates by touching cards in his word book.

When Catherine is torn between Jason and the new girl next door, she is forced to evaluate what friendship means.

RULES is a touching story about families, friendship and fitting in. Catherine, Jason and David are just like real kids next door-the kind of kids you fall in love with and want to shelter from the harsh world.

I read RULES in one sitting on the day it arrived; I couldn't put it down. I felt the tension and the love-and I wanted to stay in Catherine's world for just a bit longer. I carried the characters around in my head and my heart for several days...and, I'm not sure they'll really ever leave me.

Cynthia Lord's debut novel is a must-read! I highly-recommend this magical novel that will change the way many people view the world.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 7, 2007
After seeing Rules in countless Scholastic classroom book orders, I purchased the novel to read to my fifth grade students, wanting to expose them to a worthwhile piece of children's literature. I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome; they enjoyed the story (and the different rules included throughout the book) and seemed to really look at the way people treat others.

Rules not only deals with autism, but with disabilities in general. The main character, a twelve year old named Catherine, frequently accompanies her younger brother (who is autistic) to his occupational therapy clinic where she befriends a boy her age named Jason. Although Lord never specifically names the disability, Jason is in a wheelchair and is unable to communicate through speech, he instead points to word cards. The two develop a friendship, although Catherine continues to struggle with how the world views her relationships with disabled people. These situations provoked some very interesting, touching discussions with my students that I hope have helped them become more compassionate young people.

Rules is a very important books for kids to read or hear. Many children are not exposed to people that are different than them, and it seems that this lack of information often leads to bullying. This is an interesting, funny, touching read for kids, probably best for those ten and up.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2006
Cynthia Lord's debut novel RULES is a tender look at adolescence and autism. Through the eyes of 12 year old Catherine, we see how her little brother's autism touches each of her family members in different ways: her mother is caring, her father is distant, and Catherine is both his sister and his teacher. No matter what happens, she tries to teach David rules to make sure he knows the do's and don'ts of life.

Then Catherine meets two kids her age who are about to change the rules: Kristi, the new girl next door who she is in awe of immediately, and Jason, a paraplegic who she meets while waiting for her brother to finish an Occupational Therapy (OT) session. Kristi could be the cool best friend Catherine has always wanted. Jason turns out to be the friend she never expected.

Rules is both compassionate and honest. It was a pleasant read due to the warm narrative and the honesty of the afflictions, emotions, and relationships. By allowing Catherine room for error, for apologies, and for acceptance, the young protagonist is very likable and relatable. Like the equally outstanding TRU CONFESSIONS by Janet Tashjian, I recommend RULES to young kids and families alike in hopes of encouraging acceptance and compassion.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2007
Catherine is between a rock and a hard place...as are most siblings of special children. Somewhere between protecting her autistic brother and protecting herself from embarassment of his behavior, she creates a list of rules for him.

This deeply moving story examines many facets of lives with challenges. Catherine is able to see the heart of the matter through the eyes of a physically challenged boy at her brother's therapy office. He can only communicate by pointing to words. She empathizes with his limitations and gives him new words to expand his options - like "Whatever"! They build a special bond together.

Meanwhile, outside of the world of doctors and therapists, Catherine longs to make friends with her new neighbor. She is concerned that the new friend will not understand her brother's behavior or her wheelchair-bound friend's challenges. Struggling with her own opposing feelings, she avoids bringing these two parts of her life together.

My favorite part of the story was the way that Catherine's brother was able to communicate through the words of Loebel's Frog and Toad Together story. Absolutely precious!

I was so touched by this story, because we have special needs children in our own family. The lives of our other children have been both challenged and blessed by dealing with the reality of a sibling with medical and mental differences. Of course, we tried to make sure that the hearts of all of our children were nurtured, but there was inevitably an impact on our other children. They have had extra responsibilities and sometimes felt that their needs were neglected to meet the demands of their sibling. Yet, in the end, their character was deepened and their maturity was advanced by living beyond themselves in a self-seeking culture.

This is an important story that EVERY child should read. Autism is growing at an alarming rate. It would benefit every child to get in the shoes of special children and that of their family.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
You can always tell when you're reading a book that has a basis in truth. With RULES, author Cynthia Lord writes about what it's like to live with autism, and she should know, since she has an autistic child.

That ring of truth is there, in every word, when you read the story of twelve-year old Catherine and her autistic younger brother, David.David hates loud noises. If there's a cloud in the sky, he has to take his red umbrella with him. If his dad says he'll be home at five o'clock, David starts going crazy at five-oh-one. He likes to rewind his movie of Thomas the Tank Engine to his favorite part, over and over and over again. His favorite place to visit is the video store, where he'll even lay on the floor to read the back of the movie box a stranger is holding in his hand. And he knows all the words to Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad.

For Catherine, though, it's a much different story. She hates the way people stare at her brother, or even worse, refuse to look at him at all. She's jealous of the time David gets to spend, one-on-one, with their pharmacist father. She hates David's rules, the strict adherence to which he is obsessed with them, and yet she makes new rules for him every time she thinks of something else he needs to know.

Catherine copes by drawing, and one day she decides to draw the boy in the wheelchair who is in the waiting room with her at Occupational Therapy. David goes there once a week to work with a therapist, and so does the boy who doesn't speak but instead uses a book of word cards to communicate. When Catherine offers to make Jason, the boy in the wheelchair, some new cards with pictures, an unlikely friendship is born. Catherine is also excited about Kristi, her new next-door neighbor, but soon finds out that friendship is a complicated matter.

How do you protect a brother that often annoys you? How can you be friends with the beautiful girl next door and yet be ashamed to admit your friend Jason doesn't talk and is in a wheelchair? How do you make your father understand that you matter, too? How do you tell your mother that even though David needs his own words, Frog and Toad is a special communication between a brother and sister that love each other? RULES isn't just a book about autism, but rather a look into the complexities of a family relationship. An excellent read for anyone who has ever had to deal with someone who is just a little bit different than everyone else.
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2007
Catherine is a twelve year old girl whose little brother, David, has autism. On one hand she is fiercely protective of him but on the other, she is mortified when he does embarrassing things that could potentially mess up her relationships. She doesn't give her friends nearly enough credit in understanding about David, but she's been burned in the past. To help David be less embarassing, Catherine writes him rules about day-to-day life. No toys in the fish tank. It's ok to yell on the playground, but not during dinner. Over time, a lot of these rules are obviously more for Catherine than for David.

Catherine's best friend is away is away for the summer and there's a new family moving in next door. Catherine has high hopes for her friendship with Kristi, but, like real life, not everything goes as she wished it would--and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

When Catherine accompanies David to therapy, she meets Jason, who is in a wheel chair and can't talk. Jason has a book of cards with pictures and words that he points to in order to communicate. Catherine starts drawing him more cards, including nebulous concepts like "murky" and "unfair". Catherine again tries to balance fitting in with her "normal" friends and classmates, and her friendship with Jason. Jason was a really interesting character that continued to surprise me, and I wish we saw even more of him.

One of my favorite parts of this book were when Catherine was trying to figure out what to draw for abstract ideas. My other favorite part was the struggle Catherine had in trying to be understanding of David, but feeling overshadowed by him in the family dynamic and needing her parents to sometimes focus exclusively on her. I think it was a very real, if not pretty, look at what it means to be in a family with someone who requires so much attention and energy.

I also liked how, when David couldn't put his thoughts and feelings into words, would quote extensively from the Frog and Toad books by Lobel. It was heartbreaking and hilarious.

My main quibble is with the ending-- it was overly tidy and neat while at the same time not really solving anything. It tarnished the rest of the wonderful book for me.
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