Rules is about 12 year old Catherine, who has an eight year old brother, David, who is autistic. One lonely summer, she meets a boy her own age(ish), Jason, who uses a wheelchair, and communicates by pointing to words.
What I liked about this book, while I was reading, it was that it grabbed me and pulled me in without ever jarring me back to reality with sloppy writing. What I liked about this book thinking about afterwards was its theme of communication. Catherine makes words (with pictures, drawn on individual cards) ostensibly as gifts to Jason; she is at first shy about talking to him/acknowledging his existence as a person, but the gift of words melts the ice. Her autistic brother David communicates by reciting the Rules she has written for him, and by borrowing the words of Frog and Toad. How will he ever learn to speak for himself, their mother asks, if you encourage him to borrow words?
Catherine herself is trying to find her own words to communicate to her parents, and to herself, her own frustrations and emotions--many of the words she writes for Jason are words she is suppressing inside herself, many of the rules she writes for her brother are rules that have acquired an inflated importance for her in her quest to make life work as it should. She has not quite found her own voice either-- just about the only times she speaks kindly to her brother, she uses Frog's words, not her own; and in her developing friendship with Jason, she sometimes uses his words cards to talk to him. So it was a relief when, toward the end of the book, she picked up the phone, called her father and said what she needed to say, in her own words.
One last thing that struck me as interesting-- because of course a reader communicates with people in a book by reading words, Jason's communication with written words within a written text puts him on a much more equal footing communication-wise with the other characters than he would have in real life. I could hear his voice just as well as the voices of other people in the book. It irked me just now, reading reviews of this book over at Amazon where I went to get the picture, that the School Library Journal says that Jason "uses a book of pictures to communicate." Just because he can't talk doesn't mean he can't read.
Earlier the same day I finished Forever in Blue, the fourth traveling pants book. I guess I have grown too old and cynical to be interested in rather mundane teen romance. And, in contrast to Rules, there were annoyances of sloppy writing, like this one: if Lena is so broke coming up with $8 is a big deal, where does she get the money to hop down from Providence to NY at a moments notice (at least $34 if you buy your bus ticket in advance)???