Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Rules for Hearts--Sara Ryan (book review)

The Rules for Hearts is Sara Ryan's second novel, and the second to be nominated for an Oregon Book Award. Her first, Empress of the World, won the Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature.

In The Rules for Hearts, Battle Davies moves to Portland, Oregon, to spend a summer with the older brother who ran away from home four years ago. Battle works to rebuild her relationship with her brother and find a place among his housemates as she waits to begin the next phase of her life, in college.

I never got around to reading Ryan's first book, which turned out to be a mistake. I was mystified by repeated references to a girl from Battle's past named Nicola. I kept waiting for a big revelation to explain Nicola's continued presence--was there a traumatic event involving her? Would she appear halfway through the book to liven things up? The big revelation didn't come until I'd finished the book and began seeking out other reviews before writing my own: Nicola is the main character from Empress of the World. Ah. So, her presence is the thread that ties the second book to the first. Unfortunately, it's a loose thread that, while perhaps meaningful to loyal readers and the author, was more of a distraction for this reader.

One of the main conflicts in the story is Battle's desire to spend more time with her brother, who seems to be avoiding her. Interestingly, I found myself as a reader having the same problem as Battle was--not quite enough time with that brother. His presence is so elusive that at first he appears to be merely the author's mechanism for getting Battle to Portland and into a house she doesn't quite fit into. I would have liked a little more brother backstory (perhaps instead of the Nicola backstory?), so I could understand what brought him to the place he is, and get hit hard by his shortcomings right along with Battle.

What makes this book stand out? The fact that both the brother and Battle are attracted to people of their own gender, and that this is not the main focus of the story. I decided to review this book during Banned Book Week because I'm sure plenty of people would prefer that their teens not read a book where the protagonist is comfortable with the fact that she's into girls. I wonder if the book is being purchased by school libraries, and if so, will it be challenged in the future despite the fact that the sexual content is limited to kissing and vague implication?

For more information about Sara Ryan, you may visit her blog at The Rules for Hearts also has its own website,

The soundtrack: The characters in Rules for Hearts are in the cast of the play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. So I decided to go with Al Petteway's "Midsummer Moon." I'm not sure it's Battle's style, but I'm pretty sure Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" or Juice Newton's "The Queen of Hearts" aren't, either.


  1. Thanks for reviewing Rules -- I appreciate seeing your take on it!
    And I know that Empress has been challenged in both school and public libraries, but I haven't heard about any challenges to Rules yet. Doesn't mean they haven't happened, of course...

  2. Hi Sara, I'm glad you stopped by!
    I'll definitely have to read Empress so I can get to know Nicola--because after reading Rules and wondering why Nicola was in it, it was very funny to read other reviews (especially by teens) which said, "I liked the book, but why wasn't Nicola in it?" She obviously left quite an impression. As did the characters of Rules...that darned Nick has really stuck with me. Wishing you'd write him his own book.
    And, btw, if you have a song which fits the book that I can find on Playlist, let me know and I'll make a switch. (That goes for readers, too!)