The Rules is a fast-paced, dramatic novel.
MILD SPOILER WARNINGS!
Amber’s father has controlled her life since she was very young. Her mother has run away, leaving Amber to her father and ‘The Rules’, a set of commandments that (at least in her father’s mind) will guarantee survival for him and his family in the case of an ‘end-of-days’ catastrophe. Amber begins the story on the run from her father, finally having built the courage and capacity to leave this abusive relationship.
The story falls loosely into two parts. The first deals with introducing the abuse and its effect on Amber. While she is on the run, there is an ominous atmosphere and a sense of the ever-present fear she experiences. The second part explores what happens when Amber’s father catches up with her. The tension continues to mount and builds to an unexpected ending.
Amber’s voice throughout is hard, building its strength as we see her learning to overcome the problems in her way and from her past. But, despite her achievements, isn’t her final address to the reader a chilling reminder that abuse can last a lifetime? Will she go on to recognise that although she is now safe, she will need further strength and trust to build herself and go on to lead a better life.
The characterisation of men in the book is also worth exploring. Amber’s father is an outright monster, but Josh provides a far better and well-rounded image of masculinity: one that is emotionally strong and demonstrating the struggle of dealing with his own darkness.
Although the book contains a trigger warning, many who have not suffered from abuse, will read it and still feel very much affected by the story and its impact. While the first part of the book – to me – felt more authentic, the second shifted tone somewhat to focus more on the ‘thriller’ element of the plot. The ultimate ending (because there are, in a sense, two) is a brilliant conclusion to this particular story, but the reader might also consider how many stories of abuse end in this way, with the abused so immediately rising up against their abuser? How many young people, homeless and striving for survival every day, manage to find a way through their problems? I was left uneasy by these questions, still very much haunted by the trauma that was so strongly present earlier on in the book.
An unsettling book, then, and one which young people will best read with the security and guidance of a trusted adult to talk with during and after reading.
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