1736 Weird rules we all follow
Weird Rules to Follow
by Kim Spencer
Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 2022
$12.95 / 9781459835580
Reviewed by Cassidy Jean
Growing up is tough. Crushes, hormones, and the expectations that come with going from child to “preteen” are difficult to navigate. Add to that racial tensions, and growing up as an Indigenous girl in the 80s is really tough. And that’s right where readers are introduced to Mia Douglas, an Indigenous girl in her preteens growing up in 1980s Prince Rupert.
Weird Rules to Follow takes readers through scenes in Mia’s life, starting from the time she’s in Grade 5 to the time she goes into Grade 8, with some flashbacks to earlier days mixed in. This slice of life includes scenes of her home life, school days, and time spent with her best friend Lara. Lara is a Mexican Hungarian girl who lives on the same street as Mia, and the girls spend the bulk of their time together. Whether it’s biking around the neighbourhood, playing Barbies at Lara’s house, or prank calling their crushes, they go through it all together.
Although the novel is made up of brief vignettes of Mia’s experiences, each chapter also probes at deeper issues. Topics of racism, fatherlessness, residential schools, and alcoholism all make an appearance in Weird Rules to Follow. Much of Mia’s story is also contrasted with Lara’s home life. Although both girls are visible minorities, they lead very different lives. Mia’s mother is an alcoholic, and Mia has no idea who her father is. She lives in a little house with her mother, grandmother, and a revolving door of family members. Lara lives with her parents and younger brother in the biggest and nicest house in the cul-de-sac. As the girls grow up, the differences that once didn’t matter seem to become more pronounced.
The book also deals honestly with alcoholism and how it affects children. Mia and her cousins are “all experts in gauging the state of [their parents’] soberness.” (57) By the time Mia was eight she’d “seen people drunk many times. [She’d] seen fights as well.” (48) and she already she knows that “you don’t talk openly about shameful things like that. You hide them” (24).
Another thing I appreciated in the story was how issues of racism were handled. This was not a story about “the only Indigenous girl in an
otherwise white community.” This was a story about one Indigenous girl’s experience in a relatively diverse town dealing with people of many different backgrounds and walks of life. The stories from Mia’s preteen years are an unfortunate reminder that visible minorities can be just as racist, ignorant, and unkind as anyone else. Mia’s experiences remind us that people can say hurtful things, even if they’re not trying to be hurtful. People can be insensitive, and offensive, and obtuse: and that’s just how people are. But her story also reminds us that we all play a part in breaking down the barriers that divide us.
Given that this novel is a “slice of life,” each chapter is a mini story, and the stories are not necessarily in chronological order. That being said, the short snippets of Mia’s life are interesting, relatable, and make the novel as a whole an effortless read. Plus, each chapter has a descriptive title, which makes each section of the novel that much more engaging. This book is geared towards school-aged children in grades 5-8, and while it is aimed towards a female audience, the larger themes it discusses would be of interest to boys as well as girls.
Written from first person point of view, Weird Rules to Follow gives readers an unfiltered look into Mia’s thoughts. Readers get to journey with Mia as she navigates family dynamics, goes on her first date, and makes the transition from elementary school to junior high. The tone of the novel is honest, a little nostalgic, and sensitive to the challenges that Mia faces as she grows up. Despite all that Mia’s seen and experienced, her tale holds the innocent voice of childhood; she doesn’t have all the answers and she wonders at times why there are so many questions.
An ode to childhood, and an investigation of the weird rules we all follow, this book is an accessible and engaging read that presents big issues in bite size pieces. A healthy mix of sorrow, laughter, sweet moments, and hard lessons, Weird Rules to Follow would be a great addition to the school or classroom library. We can all relate to Mia. We’ve all had to work through tricky family relationships, and changing friendships, and growing up. Despite all the differences that divide us, at the end of the day we have much more in common than we realize.
Cassidy Jean is a Thompson Rivers University Alumnus with a double Major in English and Psychology. She loves reading and writing, but isn’t too fond of arithmetic. She enjoys going for walks, curling up with a good book, and spending time with her family. Editor’s note: Cassidy Jean has also reviewed books by LS Stone, Trevor Atkins, Frances Greenslade, and Natelle Fitzgerald for The British Columbia Review.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster