Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chapter Book Review - Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin

Many readers recognize the name Ann M. Martin from her prolific Babysitters' Club series of novels. Oh, the thousands upon thousands of middle school girls who have pored over these books! I never read them myself -- being more of a Nancy Drew girl -- but many of my friends did, and they continued to be popular long through my career as a bookseller.

Lest you think that's all Martin's got up her sleeve, though, please note that she's also written a number of critically acclaimed stand-alone novels, including A Corner of the Universe, which received a Newbery Honor. (And which, oh my word, is a flat-out incredible novel - one of the few I've seriously considered rereading of late.) Seems to me there's something to be said for all those Babysitters books -- through them Martin honed her craft, especially where starring roles for middle-grade girls are concerned.

That's where Pearl Littlefield comes in. The star of Martin's latest novel, Ten Rules for Living with My Sister, Pearl has a unique voice and perspective all her own. Fourth-grader Pearl's stuck between two worlds, idolizing (and terrorizing) her older sister Lexie and mentoring her best friend, first-grader Justine. Pearl can't help noticing all the ways that she and Lexie are different, and Lexie just has no tolerance for Pearl and her antics, no matter how good they are. And believe me, they're good -- Pearl's not one to let that "No Pearl" sign on Lexie's door stand without a fight.

Just when things between the sisters are reaching a fever pitch, though, the game changes. Suddenly Pearl and Lexie's grandfather, Daddy Bo, is moving in with the family, and the girls become unwilling roommates. By everyone's estimation, this is a recipe for disaster. And Pearl figures she'd better start making herself some rules, if she's going to live through this experience. But as she soon finds out, not even the most carefully constructed list of rules can cover every eventuality that life has to offer. Expecting the unexpected is only the beginning.

With Pearl, Martin's given us a snapshot of a girl smack dab in the middle -- of her family and of her maturity. This is something a lot of kids can relate to, I think, that feeling of not quite belonging but desperately wanting to. To call Pearl spirited is an understatement (annoying her sister is something Pearl's brought to an art form) but when things in the Littlefield family dynamic shift, Pearl steps up in ways no one thought possible. What's really great about Ten Rules is the glimpse it gives us into some important relationships: between sisters, between friends, and between a grandparent and grandchild. There are some honest and compelling scenes in this novel, ones that make you laugh even as they make you think about the relationships in your own life.

Ten Rules shows us that sometimes the defining moments in our lives are the ones no rules can cover. For Pearl, and for many of us, real life is all about the gaps in between.

Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin, published by Feiwel and Friends
Ages 9-13
Source: ARC provided by the publisher for review purposes
Sample: "I am no stranger to the silent treatment. When Lexie is mad at me she shouts, 'I'm not speaking to you!'. Sometimes after that she whips her head away from me, or turns her back, or stomps into her room and slams the door. / And then sometimes one of my parents will mutter 'Teenagers.' (They only mean Lexie, not me, since you don't qualify as a teenager until you are thirteen.)"

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