Callie’s Rules by Naomi Zucker

Some of Callie’s Rules:
A family is not a democracy. Even when your father’s a lawyer and talks a lot about rights, it’s still not.

Listen to your father. The things he tells you might be useful sometime.

Monks have the right idea. If you never open your mouth, you get into a lot less trouble.

If everybody liked their Coke the same way, the world would be a pretty boring place.

I read this book about diversity and The Town That Tried to Cancel Halloween on just the right night, Friday night October 30th in my Austin motel room while I was preparing to attend the Texas Book Festival on Saturday, Halloween. In the book some busybodies decide that Halloween is Satanic and dangerous and harmful to young psyches. Unfortunately, the head busybody is also the wife of the town banker, and Mrs. Van Dine has more influence with the Hillcrest Town Council than Callie’s weird family does. The Jones family is made up of a lawyer father, and artist mom, and seven children, each with their own unique personality. (Callie’s little sister plays and naps in a cage.) Callie’s caught right in the middle of this weird family, and she’s not sure she can ever be like her mom, who doesn’t care whether people think she’s weird or not.

The minor characters in this novel are somewhat cartoonish, Mrs. Van DIne and her snooty daughter Valeri, the obtuse Town Council members, Callie’s wishy-washy best friend Alyce, but it’s still a good exploration what it feels like to be in middle school, desperate to fit in and yet wanting to be true to one’s own passions and beliefs. Callie loves Halloween. She enjoys the “weirdos”, the metal sculptures that her mom makes every year to display in the front yard of their home at Halloween. She doesn’t want to celebrate a healthy, insipid Autumn Fest, the substitute that Mrs. Van Dine has dreamed up for Hillcrest’s children. But she also doesn’t want anyone to think she’s weirder than they already think she is.

Callie’s dilemma, the fitting in and being yourself at the same time, is the dilemma of almost all middle school students. Callie navigates this perplexing middle school conflict with grace and humor. I’m thinking this would be an enjoyable Halloween read for young people who are caught in the same quandary. They might find some of Callie’s rules quite useful. Oh, and fans of Jane Eyre will also find a kindred spirit in Callie since Charlotte Bronte’s classic is Callie’s comfort book.

Comfort books, books that the protagonist reads over and over for solace and support, seem to be a theme in several books I’ve read lately, and that re-reading is also something my own children do. I don’t remember ever becoming that focused on one book or one set of books, though I do re-read favorites sometimes. The girl in Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me loves Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Brown Bear Daughter has been reading and re-reading Twilight and its sequels for about six months now. I read them once and found them entertaining, but I really don’t see that there’s enough there to go back to the well more than once. And Drama Daughter has been, dare I say, obsessed with Harry Potter for about three or four years now. Do you have a “comfort book” —one that you read again and again and that serves as metaphor and key for your life’s events?

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own.

1 thought on “Callie’s Rules by Naomi Zucker

  1. When I was a kid, we (my family) didn’t celebrate Halloween. We did sometimes hand out candy, depending on if we had money to purchase candy for handing out, but we never went trick or treating. I finaly went my freshman year in college, just to see what it was like – it was fun, but I didn’t feel deprived or that I’d missed anything! We did know several churches and other families that had “autumn fests” or “harvest festivals” but even when I was a kid, I considered that a cop-out. You either celebrated Halloween or you didn’t – giving it a new name, pfui. Anyways, people seemed more reasonable about it back then – nobody tried to make anybody else not celebrate it, we just chose not to.

    Comfort reading? Hmmm. Pretty much all my 1500+ books are comfort reading. Especially my Oz books, and various cozy mysteries (Patricia Wentworth, Agatha Christie, Emma Lathen) then there’s Patricia C. Wrede, some of Diana Wynne Jones….the lest is endless.

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