Friday, October 12, 2018

The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr (A Novel) - Frances Maynard

Summary: Elvira Carr believes in rules.  She also strongly believes in crisp schedules, clear guidelines, and taking people at face value.  Not that the twenty-seven-year-old sees many people.  After several unfortunate incidents, her overbearing mother keeps her at home.  But when her mother has a stroke, Elvira is suddenly on her own.  To help her navigate a world that is often puzzling, she draws up seven ironclad rules.  Armed with these, a notebook full of questions, and guidance from a helpful neighbor, she takes charge of herself, and realizes that something isn't quite right about the life she thought she new.  She'll need all the courage, perseverance, and curious charm she can muster to unravel the mystery of what happened to her family and to manage her own life, her way.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I am often drawn to stories told from the perspective of those who are frequently misunderstood by society at large, people that for one reason or another don't quite fit into the perfect little box the world has constructed for them.  I feel that seeing life through a different set of eyes, however briefly, helps me be more sensitive to the needs of others and more compassionate about the challenges they may face in their daily lives.  The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr offered a compelling glimpse into the difficulties someone with an autism spectrum disorder might face as they attempt to venture out into society.

In The Seven Rules, the main character, Elvira (Ellie), has her own way of doing things and a mind that works differently than most.  While Ellie is a capable caregiver for her controlling, but elderly, mother, she struggles to relate to the outside world.  She has a Condition that thrives on detail, predictability, and absolutes, but struggles to interpret social cues, sarcasm, figures of speech, and the unwritten rules of behavior that everyone else seems to understand implicitly.  When her mother suffers a stroke and is moved to a nursing home, Ellie is forced to become more independent and adapt to life on her own terms or risk being taken away herself .  To cope, she develops a set of seven rules for behavior designed to help her fit in with the "NeuroTypicals" in her life -- absolutes she can cling to in a world she finds confusing and chaotic.  These rules are developed fairly early on in the book so that most of the story has to do with Ellie applying the rules (with varied results) and learning that personal interaction isn't as easy as following a set of rules.  Overtime, the rules change and grow to incorporate the things that she has learned and Ellie gains the confidence to embrace a world she had once feared.

I enjoyed my time with this book.  If I were to look at it strictly from a story perspective (and not an empathy-building one), I would say that it had a good plot and interesting characters, with enough mystery to keep a reader engaged, but that it didn't knock my socks off so much as make them slip down in my shoe a little.    However, there is more to this story than the STORY.  Ellie's perspective is similar to others I have read (see a little further down), but I always appreciate the reminder that everyone's brains function differently and something that seems simple to one person might seem completely foreign to another.  While the author never specifically named Ellie's disorder, calling it only her Condition, it bore a strong resemblance some disorders on the autism spectrum.   For example, Ellie is very direct and literal. Tact just isn't her thing and phrases like "have a fit" or "up to my eyeballs" will "fly right over her head".  Some people are bothered by this behavior and think that she is rude or unintelligent, when it's just her way of seeing the world.  It was hard to see how some people reacted to her differences, but there were other times when you wanted to just reach into the book and hug those who got her.

Nearly everyone I know has been touched by autism in some form or another and while I know that autism disorders manifest differently in each person, I find it particularly helpful to understand how someone with an autism spectrum disorder might think or feel when approached a certain way.  To me, that is where this book has true value.  It gives us a chance at understanding the "Ellie's" of the world and being more sensitive to their particular brand of thinking, being, and doing. I recommend it to anyone who would like to broaden their understanding of the human experience, and perhaps gain a little compassion along the way.

NOTE:  There are a few books, like this one, that I believe can help a reader understand the perspectives of those in our midst who might feel like they don't fit in.  I've gone ahead and linked our reviews so you can dig deeper if you'd like.

Wonder by RJ Palacio
Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Out of My Mind - Sharon Draper

Have you read any of these books (or ones like them)?  Comment below with your favorite living-thinking-doing-being-outside-the-box kind of books.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some instances with language (one particular secondary character tends to profanity when angry and another is just a creep).  Two instances of sexual assault/attempted rape.

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