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Rules for Life

TitleRules for Life
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsRyan, Darlene
Number of Pages163
PublisherOrca Book Publishers
DescriptorsAdolescence; Alcoholism; Families; Fredericton; Mothers; Siblings; Young Adult

This young adult novel tells the story of Izzy, a teenager who lost her mother two years ago and has been getting by through the guidance of her mother’s endless rules that she keeps in a red notebook. Izzy’s life is shaken up when her father remarries and she must deal with her new stepmother’s pregnancy. She must also deal with her brother’s alcoholism and drug problems. Ultimately, Izzy gains insight into the importance of family and accepts that life doesn’t always follow a set of rules. The author, Darlene Ryan, lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

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Izzy's mother died two years ago. Izzy remembers fifty-three of her mother's rules and uses those rules to help organize her life. Conflict arises when her father informs her of his intention to marry a woman named Anne, whom Izzy barely knows. Izzy searches for a way to understand her situation by scrutinizing examples of both successful and failed marriages. She finds support from her boyfriend, Rafe, and a woman in a retirement home, Mrs. Mac, whom Izzy interviews for a school project. However, Izzy's brother Jason, a recovering drug abuser, offers little assistance. The family learns that Anne is pregnant, and Izzy's father marries her soon after. When he is out of town, Anne goes into premature labour, and Izzy is forced to manage the desperate situation alone. At the hospital, Izzy calls Mrs. Mac for help. She confronts her father angrily and searches for her brother who failed to answer her phone calls during this time. Izzy discovers that Jason is drinking and falling back into a destructive pattern. Anne`s baby dies, and communication between the family members breaks down entirely. Finally, Jason goes missing. Izzy, with the help of Anne and Rafe, finds him unconscious in a park. Jason is hospitalized, but refuses to take responsibility for his actions or admit his problem. Jason then goes missing after his family's decision to discontinue supporting him financially. In the end, Izzy and Anne become closer, and Mrs. Mac becomes a regular visitor and friend of the family. As the entire family gathers for cooking lessons, Izzy looks out the window to see Jason returning home.


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 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.
Dad wears his hair sort of long for someone who's forty. And the whole left side was flattened against his head, with only a few pieces coming out at weird angles, like he'd slept on it funny. Which meant he'd slept somewhere else, because the first thing he would have done here when he got up was shower and fix his hair.
So I knew he had sex. Plus I could see the neck of his T-shirt in the vee of his sweater. It was inside out.
And backward.
I got my cereal out of the cupboard – two blobs of shredded wheat – boiled water in the microwave, poured it on my cereal and drained it off. My breakfast looked like a dish of soggy hay. It's what I've eaten every morning since I was four. My mother always made it. I ate it. When she wasn't here anymore, I made it.
A bowl of fiber to start the day was one of my mother's rules. She had a lot of rules, and if you asked her why about any of them, she'd smile and say, "Because I'm the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, that's why."
And I almost thought she was, until two years ago when she died and the universe didn't even slow down, not for a second. It just kept on going. (1-2)