Rules - Cynthia Lord
The appealing, credible narrator at the heart of Lord's debut novel will draw in readers, as she struggles to find order and balance in her life. Her parents place 12-year-old Catherine in charge of her younger autistic brother more often than she would like. Taking solace in art, the girl fills the back of her sketchbook with rules she has established for David, "so if my someday-he'll-wake-up-a-regular-brother wish doesn't ever come true, at least he'll know how the world works, and I won't have to keep explaining things." Sorely missing her best friend, who is away for the summer, and realizing that the girl who has just moved in next door is not a kindred spirit, Catherine devises some of her own self-protective rules ("When you want to get out of answering something, distract the questioner with another question"). In the able hands of the author, mother of an autistic child, Catherine's emotions come across as entirely convincing, especially her alternating devotion to and resentment of David, and her guilt at her impatience with him. Through her artwork, the heroine gradually opens up to Jason, a wheelchair-bound peer who can communicate only by pointing to words on cards. As she creates new cards that expand Jason's ability to express his feelings, their growing friendship enables Catherine to do the same. A rewarding story that may well inspire readers to think about others' points of view. Ages 9-12.