One day, while in the waiting room of David’s OT clinic, Catherine meets a boy named Jason. Little does she know that meeting Jason will impact her life more than she could’ve ever expected.
Twelve year old Catherine cannot believe her luck. Mrs. Bowman, the old lady who lived next door, has sold her house to a woman and her daughter, who is also twelve years old. Catherine’s dream of growing up next door to a friend could be coming true, and she is beyond excited. It’s the beginning of summer vacation, and Catherine’s best friend Melissa is visiting her dad in California. What a perfect time to make a perfect new friend! As Catherine dreams about the family who owns the furniture that’s being moved into the house next door, her eight year old brother David is counting down the minutes until five o’clock, when dad promised to take him to the video store. David, who is autistic, doesn’t realize that he still has to go to OT before going to the video store, and Catherine braces herself for the screams that follow when he finds out.
Catherine likes going to the OT clinic with David and their mom. She enjoys the time with Mom while David is in his session, and sometimes pulls out her sketchbook to draw. As Catherine looks around for something to draw, she notices the people in the waiting room who are always there at the same time. She decides to draw Jason, an older boy around fifteen who is in a wheelchair and uses cards to communicate. Jason’s mother is offended when she realizes what Catherine is doing, but Jason likes the picture and Catherine gives it to him to keep.
Back at home, Catherine is eager to meet her new neighbor, who never seems to be home. They introduce themselves briefly, and Catherine learns that her name is Kristi, but David’s outburst cuts the encounter short; it seems that beginning this friendship is tougher than she’d hoped. Meanwhile, Catherine’s friendship with Jason is blossoming. She begins making him new speech cards of words that he might actually appreciate using to express his feelings and what he wants to say. Catherine enjoys making the cards as much as Jason enjoys receiving them, and they communicate more and more. When Catherine finally gets a chance to hang out with Kristi, Ryan, who is their age and ridicules David constantly, comes over and it becomes clear that Kristi likes him and wants to be his friend.
Catherine and Jason become closer and closer, while it seems like her friendship with Kristi isn’t progressing at all. When Kristi invites Catherine and Jason to come to the summer dance with her and Ryan at the community center, Catherine struggles with what to do. What will Kristi and Ryan think of Jason? Of her? What if people talk about her? Jason and his mother invite Catherine and David to Jason’s birthday party, and when they are there, Jason learns about the dance. He realizes that Catherine is hesitant to go with him because of his handicap, and is hurt and angry. Realizing how wrong she is, Catherine asks Jason to meet her at the dance, truly hoping that he shows up.
When Jason shows up at the dance, Kristi is angry at Catherine for not telling the truth about Jason, proving to Catherine that she isn’t a good friend at all. At the dance, Catherine sets herself free of all of the worries, what-ifs, and what-will-people-thinks. She and Jason have a wonderful time, and Catherine realizes that friendship, above all, is what matters.
Catherine is a character in a book, but students will find themselves relating to her in many ways as she navigates growing up and trying to fit in, all while trying to find her true self. Newbery Honor winning Rules is a story about friendship, kindness, acceptance, and love that should be taught in every classroom.