School is out for the summer, and Catherine is not exactly looking forward to spending it without her best friend, who is visiting her father out-of-state over the summer break. Catherine learns that a girl her age is moving in next door, and although she desires a new summer friend (someone she can use flashlights to blink Morse code with at night), she worries that the new girl won't understand her younger brother, David, who is autistic. In an effort to curb some of David's social behaviors, Catherine creates rules for him, such as "No toys in the fish tank." or "Late doesn't mean not coming." While Catherine is attempting to make a new friend next door, she discovers that with little effort she's managed to make a friend at David's therapy clinic. Jason is a mute paraplegic who communicates through a word book, and Catherine, upon discovering he only has boring words, offers to make some hip words with pictures for him. As her friendship with Jason grows, and she tries harder to become friends with the girl next door, Catherine realizes that defining relationships can be complicated.
When I asked my oldest 3 kids which books were the top 5 that they would recommend to other children, Rules was the very first book my 11 year old mentioned. (Before the Hobbit, even! That's high praise coming from the most sensitive member of this household.) Upon reading Rules, which won a Newbery Honor award, I could definitely understand why he was so moved by this book. The language in speaking of autism, and the feelings and actions of the other family members, rings with an authenticity that generates the backbone of this novel. Catherine is such a relatable character, full of practical observations, and with more responsibility thrust upon her than most kids her age. Although many of the issues in this book, such as Catherine's desire to befriend the girl next door and her ambivalent friendship with Jason, were not wholly resolved, the way Lord ended the book felt satisfying and realistic as life often doesn't wrap up neatly with tidy resolutions to relationship challenges.
You can find Rules in the Middle Grade Books - Philip Recommends section of The Book Children Store.