Friday, October 13, 2006
Rules, by Cynthia Lord
Catherine struggles to have a normal life and befriend the new girl who has moved in next door, but her life is complicated by her little brother David, who is autistic. When David isn't acting up in some way that embarasses her, she is trying to train him with a set of "rules" to help him get through life. These rules, however, reveal more about Catherine's own issues than David's, as becomes clear when she befriends Jason who has his own struggles to deal with.
Ironically, the CCBC list is discussing books about the depiction of handicapped children in children's literature this week, so I'm a bit hypersensitive to the depictions here. While they are generally respectful, there is a bit of the "child as a burden" theme going here that Catherine's acceptance of her brother at the end cannot really overcome. And while there are many other issues being portrayed here (parental neglect, etc), it is clear that autism is the major dramatic obstacle to overcome. A small step forward for the depiction of disabilities, but not quite there yet.
That said, the story itself is functional. It is engaging enough and has some subtlety in it, but there's not a lot of new ground here, although Catherine is able to stand up for herself a bit, which is a pleasure to see. A mixed book.