RULES by Cynthia Lord
Catherine loves her younger brother, David. But David’s autism makes Catherine’s life more complicated than she wishes it were. Her parents always devote more time to her brother, and Catherine feels responsible for training David in appropriate behavior by teaching him rules like “Keep your pants on in public” and “Sometimes people laugh when they like you, but sometimes they laugh to hurt you.” When a new girl moves in next door, Catherine worries that her brother’s behavior will prevent her from making a new friend. Complicating her life even more is her growing friendship with Jason, a boy her age who is in a wheelchair and can only speak using communication cards. Creating even more rules for herself and for her brother, Catherine struggles to keep the different parts of her life separate and under control, but inevitably her social circles collide and force her to examine her true values.
Catherine’s struggles with navigating social expectations, fitting in among friends, and being true to herself will resonate with many middle grade readers. In particular, Catherine’s friendship with Jason exposes some of the challenges, qualms, and uncertainties many typically-abled children experience in their friendships with children with disabilities (and vice versa). Catherine’s experience is complete with mistakes and offenses, as well as growth and joys. Unsurprisingly, this nuanced novel is a Newbery Honor Book.
If you liked Rules, you might like Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine, and Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord.