Rules by Cynthia Lord

A heartfelt and witty debut about feeling different and finding acceptance--beyond the rules.

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She's spent years trying to teach David the rules-from "a peach is not a funny-looking apple" to "keep your pants on in public"-in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?

Discussion Questions

  1. How are Catherine’s rules good for David? How do her rules hold him back?
  2. How do Catherine’s rules hold her back?
  3. Jason’s vocabulary is limited to words his mother gives him out of a speech book. What words might be missing? How would your day be different if you were lacking those words?
  4. When Catherine tries to communicate using only word cards, she finds it very difficult. Why?
  5. We have seen characters with varied languages. David expresses emotions by quoting the book, Frog and Toad are Friends. Jason is limited by the words given to him on cards. Catherine has the entire English vocabulary at her disposal, but still cannot seem to express her feelings to others. Catherine says, “But I’m not fooling myself. I know the power these words hold.” What is the power of words? How does it affect each of these three characters (Catherine, David, and Jason)? Imagine how Jason feels having to depend on someone else's words to express his feelings.
  6. What do you think would’ve happened if Catherine had been honest right away with Kristi and told her about Jason? Why wasn’t Catherine honest? What do you think she was afraid of?
  7. Catherine is not the only character in the story who is not always honest. How do the other characters avoid dealing with problems or act in ways that are not completely truthful?
  8. When Kristi has David dance in Catherine’s room, is she being mean? Since he wasn’t upset by it, should Catherine have stopped the music?
  9. Why is Jason upset by the together card?
  10. What does Catherine risk in inviting Jason to the dance? Do you think that risk was worth it? Why or why not?
  11. What do you think might happen next for Catherine with Kristi? What choices does Catherine have?
  12. How has Catherine’s wish changed from the beginning of the book?

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