Perhaps what I found to be the most interesting aspect of this award-winning book, was the fact that although Catherine's brother, David, deals with symptoms of autism, she is still just as worried about "what everyone else thinks" as any other 12-year-old girl. When her mother (with David in tow) picked her up from one of her friend's houses, David began running through the house opening all the doors, looking for the "cellar," though there was none to be found.
"Real friends understand," Mom had said on the ride home. But here's what I understand: Sometimes everyone gets invited except us, and it's because of David. (6)
As with most of us at this 'tween' age, Catherine doesn't have many close friends and unfortunately, during the summer, her best friend, Melissa, stays in another state with her father. However, Catherine is already planning how she and the new next door neighbor, also a 12-year-old girl, will do all the same things together that she would like to do with Melissa, were she around...
Catherine willingly accompanies her mother when she takes David to the clinic for weekly therapy appointments.
The clinic is a few streets from the ocean, and in the summer sometimes mom and I walk to the waterfront park while David has his appointment. It's the only time in the week that I get Mom completely to myself and someone else is in charge of David. Mom likes to stay in the clinic waiting room so she can here if David has a hard time, but I like when we leave, because then she doesn't look away from me every time she hears him shriek. (14)
Wow. How much pressure is that?!? Not only for Catherine, but especially her mother? I firmly believe such challenging situations affect the caretakers and those in the immediate household as much as those who are disabled. Everyone must adjust and flex and there are rare opportunities for respite for most...
And can I just say that I adore this mother's relationship with her daughter?!? Although Catherine is twelve and quite capable of reading the Harry Potter books on her own, her mother still reads each new release in the series aloud to her. Sharing special books together! Ah, it makes my soul smile! (Okay, especially HP! Some of my favorite books ever written!) This definitely resonated for me. During David's appointments her mother reads quietly to Catherine while she draws with colored pencils. It is her artistic ability that first connects her to Jason, another patient who is in a wheelchair and unable to speak. Catherine is uneasy looking at Jason, not knowing where to put her eyes on him, then realizes
Maybe by drawing Jason, I could look at him easier.
Looking closer can make something beautiful.
Sometimes I can change how I feel about something by drawing it. (19)
I could understand this sentiment, much as getting to know a person can allow us to learn to appreciate something about that individual that we might otherwise never know... And one of the communication issues most cited by disabled individuals is that other people do not look them in the eyes, just as they would any "normal" person. I have never forgotten this after first reading it about 30 years ago and have always coached myself to just look people in the eye, no matter who they are or their circumstances, and it typically is a well-received gesture. Though this doesn't work out exactly had Catherine had planned, it does initiate a friendship between herself and Jason. They learn they have things in common: love of music, appreciation of humor and sarcasm, and love of running.
The Rules generally referred to by the title are those Catherine lists and teaches to David.
Chew with your mouth closed.
Say "thank you" when someone gives you a present (even if you don't like it).
If someone says "Hi," you say "Hi" back.
When you want to get out of answering something, distract the questioner with
Not everything worth keeping has to be useful.
If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over).
Sometimes people laugh when they like you. But sometimes they laugh to hurt
No toys in the fish tank. [Hence the cover image!]
This last one is the one he most often delights in "breaking." Though she also creates some rules for herself along the way. :) The major one of those is
She and David also have a communication ritual revolving around Arnold Lobel's children's classic, Frog and Toad are Friends. It seems to be very calming for David to be able to quote lines from this book. He and Catherine will converse just as if they were themselves frog and toad. It is adorable! This certainly resonated for me since my three sons would often quote from the Disney movie Robin Hood. They would often act out whole scenes. (Yes, they virtually had the whole movie memorized verbatim!) It was fun for them...and me! (Some times they even allowed me to play a part.) The voices of those characters are adorable!