“Rule” Breaking

Posted: February 1, 2013 in On Novels

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” –W. Somerset Maugham

We have one rule here on this blog, and that’s that there are no rules. It’s kind of like the first rule of Fight Club. We’re marching along here in Adolescent Lit, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find these books in the digital medium I’ve become so spoiled by (hm.. pay eight dollars for a paperback, or click a link and have the entire thing for free?). Luckily, the reading is interesting enough that when I do get my hands on the book, it’s easy to plow right through. I think I speak for any and all fellow English majors when I say that this class provides a very much-needed respite from “classic” literature. But I digress. Picking up Cynthia Lord’s “Rules” provided me with an hour’s worth of a read, and quite a few questions on my mind. While it was short, and I did enjoy parts of it, on the whole I felt as if it was.. unfinished.


Pictured above: “Rules” by Cynthia Lord

Angry Internet Criticism (not really angry):

What? Unfinished? What am I babbling on about?

Let me start from square one. Throughout the book, I was struggling with myself to decide as to whether or not Catherine was being a selfish brat, or if I should just cut her some slack. I can’t lie and say I know what it’s like to have siblings with mental disabilities. Some of the scenes where she’s trying to get through to her parents (who just don’t seem to listen, like every adult in every young adult novel ever written since the dawn of time) I thought were heart-wrenchers, but on the whole I just felt conflicted.

Would you think of someone besides yourself for like two seconds?


Dude, she’s like 12, I’m sure all of this is really difficult for her.


Just wait until Facebook hears about this!

Then, there’s the people around her. What’s the deal with Kristi? Like, does she legitimately want to be Catherine’s friend, or is she just kind of settling for her new next door neighbor? If she’s trying to be a legitimate friend, she could use some work. Taking some random dude’s word over your friend’s: not cool. Inviting your friend to essentially be the third wheel at a dance between you and random dude: not cool. Ditching your friend at said dance because she “lied to you” (knowing damn well that you’d raise an eyebrow in judgement and that random dude would snicker under his breath had you known the truth): really not cool. Moral of the story: Kristi and Ryan can both take a hike. Well, Kristi can take a hike, and Catherine needs to rearrange Ryan’s face. And when it comes to Jason’s speech therapist, do trained medical professionals really do that? Talk down to the people they’re supposed to be treating? This lady needs a muzzle, badly. Just because a person might be slow doesn’t mean they’re completely unaware that you’re being an obnoxious ass. Moving on!


Where is the frickin’ ending? I know, we’ve been spoiled by Hollywood and novels everywhere that nicely tie up all the loose ends and send us on our merry way after all is said and done, but literally, it feels like the book stopped with like three chapters left to go. Do Catherine and Jason stay friends? Do her and Kristi ever even talk again? Where is Catherine’s sudden realization that “oh hey, maybe I should quit worrying about how someone else’s legitimate mental condition affects ME for once”? I’m not saying these are questions that are left for the reader to think about – I’m saying these are questions that should have been answered. We got the Sopranos treatment here. Instead of an ending, it’s just done. That’s it. A brief moment of sweetness between Catherine and David, and then apparently it’s just over. No conversation with either parent, no big revelation or realization come to, it’s just all the same.

I know that’s life as we know it, but come on! I’m reading a novel to get away from life as we know it.

Research Question:

One other question I had (a research question that is) was, what did other people think of “Rules”? Nevermind book critics. Those people are stuffy and pomopous, and why should their opinions matter more than the 5,000+ people between Amazon and Goodreads that have their own opinions? The verdict between these two websites is that “Rules” is a resounding success. Out of like 22,000 total ratings / reviews, only about 4,200 people gave the book a rating of three stars or less. (quick math, that’s only 20% of people who read it. We are the 20%!) Some of the criticisms of the book include Lord’s periodic hyphenated-long-winded-strange-analogy segments in her narration, something I sometimes prove to be guilty of myself. Other common criticisms are of Kristi as a character, similar to my own that were raised above, the slow movement of the plot, and of Catherine’s amazing insight as a 12 year old (meaning of Lord’s blatant presence as the author despite the fact that we’re following a 12 year old girl’s thoughts).


All aboard!


Despite the readability of this story, I just didn’t find myself satisfied with it. I feel like there was pretty much no resolution, and that no one really learned anything. Sure, Catherine befriends Jason, but she doesn’t become any more tolerant of her brother, Kristi turns out to be a shitty friend at best, and Catherine / David’s parents pretty much just continue about their business. No-go for me.



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