Teen Books That Have Something to Say
Rules for Life
Rules for Life
by Darlene Ryan
I knew my father had had sex the minute I walked into the kitchen. It wasn't as though he was smoking a cigarette and basking in the afterglow. It was subtler than that.
But I knew.
It was his hair. Dad is really particular about his hair. It's strawberry blond, like mine. He spends more money on shampoo and conditioner and gel than I ever would. I just wash mine and twist it up in the back. He goes to a stylist at a salon where you have to make an appointment two weeks in advance. I go to the walk-in place and take whoever has a free chair.
Izzy has had a very close relationship with her father, almost as if they were friends, ever since her mother died two years earlier. They talk about everything. But then things change. Izzy's father gets seriously interested in someone, and decides to marry the woman--a decision that puts a wedge between Izzy and her father.
Izzy feels threatened by the presence of her new stepmother, and cannot accept her in her life, or the changes it makes in her relationship with her father. And her father can't accept Izzy's resistance; he becomes cold and distant, and this makes Izzy even more miserable. She clings even closer to the "rules" her mother taught her, as if that will bring her dead mother closer. As her brother starts acting out in pain, her father starts treating her coldly, and a tragic incident occurs with her new stepmother, Izzy learns the importance of love, acceptance, and being close to the people you love.
This is a moving, compelling story. The language is fresh and vivid, the characters strong--especially Izzy, her brother, her new stepmother, and her dead mother. Although we never get to meet Izzy's dead mother, she comes alive in her unique rules that she left her daughter. Izzy has a fresh, vibrant voice, and she is a very believable character; she feels very real, and we care about her and the people she loves. We get a great sense of the characters, and their relationships and emotional reactions feel very real. There are also many nice nuances and subtleties in the writing. This is an exceptionally well-written book.
However, the father's character abruptly changes, from a kind, compassionate father who has a close connection to his daughter, an almost friendship, to a coldness, distance, and lack of understanding that doesn't seem believable, based on his previous relationship and treatment of Izzy. It felt like he changed into a different character, or that his character was misrepresented in the early part of the book to bring more lightness there, or perhaps more pain later. It didn't work for me.
There is a nice build up to the resolution, which makes the ending all the more satisfying and believable, and a nice movement towards growing closeness between Izzy and her stepmother. There are some painful subjects and raw emotion throughout this book, but there is lots of comfort and lightness to balance this out, and all the characters, except the father, feel very real in their actions and reactions.
This is a great read. If you love characters with depth, characters who feel and react, you won't be able to put this book down. Highly recommended.
You can read an excerpt from the book (or Ryan's new one), read some tips on writing, and more at her site: www.darleneryan.com
-Added February 08, 2005
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