Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cynthia Lord Rules

The American Library Association has two conferences every year-a Midwinter conference and an annual conference in the summer. The Midwinter conference is highly anticipated by children’s and young adult librarians, for the major children’s/YA literary awards are announced. Most of you are probably familiar with the Newbery and Cadelcott awards, but there are also a slew of other awards that are given. Come Midwinter time, I know I will always have quite a few books to add to my reading list!

When the Newberys were announced, I took home Cynthia Lord’s Rules. Rules was one of the Newbery Honor books selected for this year (Penny From Heaven was also selected for the Honor. It’s a fantastic book, and I was actually rooting for Jennifer Holm, who won a Newbery Honor for Our Only May Amelia, to get the Medal this year.). Had I read Rules before the Newberys were announced, I might have rooted for it for the Medal (although it would have been hard to displace Penny From Heaven from my heart).

(I must put in a disclaimer that I haven't read The Higher Power of Lucky yet, but I am looking forward to it. We do have this on order.)

Rules is told from the perspective of twelve year old Catherine. Any twelve year old with a younger brother can tell you that it’s not easy having a little brother. However, Catherine’s little brother, David, is different. David has autism. David doesn’t pick up on the subtle societal niceties that most people do, so the family has to frequently tell him the rules of society. Catherine, in fact, has a rule book for David. “ If someone says hi, you say hi back.” "At someone else’s house, you have to follow their rules.” Perhaps most difficult of all for David is understanding that just because someone is late, it doesn’t mean that he/she is not coming. (Also no toys in the fish tank rule.)

When a girl her age moves next door, Catherine is hopeful that they can become friends. At first, things are looking up, but a mean neighbor who gets his jollies from teasing David befriends her as well. Catherine slowly befriends a kid who attends the same speech clinic as her brother; this friend is wheelchair-bound and can only communicate by pointing to cards in his notebook. Catherine begins to enjoy his company, but when Jason wants to hang out with her outside of the clinic, Catherine is torn between enjoying his company and worrying about what the other kids would think.

If this sounds like a lot, you’re right. This is not a book that a casual reader would immediately pick up. Cynthia Lord is the mother of a child with autism, so the situations ring painfully true and clear. It is not without humor, but it is definitely a heartbreaker. Everything is not “all better” on the last page. Catherine is also an honest portrayal of an ordinary girl in extraordinary situations, with all the conflicts that this generates.

Am I happy it is one of the Honor books? More than words.... It’s been several days since I’ve read it, and it pops into my head from time to time. While writing this review, I stopped and reread sections of this exceptional book. I'm eagerly awaiting more books by Cynthia Lord.

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