With recent events, I could not be silent. I’ve linked here a thread of bail funds to support protesters who are arrested for demanding justice for victims of police violence. Here is the Black Lives Matter Carrd and 74 bail funds to support as well. I will be doing this on every post. If you have the funds to donate, please do but if not, please support and uplift Black voices and sign the petitions.
Today, I’m really excited to be taking part in the blog tour for The Rules by Tracy Darnton on publication date. Thank you so much to Charlie Morris and Little Tiger Group for including me and sending me an ARC of this thrilling book in exchange for an honest review.
As part of this tour, I’m honoured to have Tracy Darnton herself write a guest post, alongside my review. She’s talking about the nature of rules and their application in abusive, controlling situations, which is at the heart of the novel.
Live by The Rules – Tracy Darnton
The Rules is about a girl called Amber on the run from her prepper dad. Amber’s whole childhood was about preparing for a catastrophic scenario. Civil unrest or global pandemic, you name it, Amber and her family are ‘Prepared. Not scared’. Except her dad takes it to extremes and builds a whole set of rules for living by which he scrawls on the walls. But now Amber must stay hidden from him – the man who taught her everything she knows about survival and staying under the radar. The Rules are kicking in again even though she’s tried to forget them. Is their pull too strong or are rules always meant to be broken?
You can see that rules are at the heart of the story. I’ll let Amber explain:
“This is how it worked with the Rules: Dad would start off with something that sounded reasonable, sensible. For example, take the Rule: Everything has its place. A sensible way to live. No time wasted looking for anything because everything is where it should be….”
“Mum had to lay his clothes out too, while she was still around, and then it was my job. Because Everything has its place turned out to apply to us too, in an unspoken way. Mum’s place became tending the vegetable patch, cooking his meals, sitting beside him like a quiet mouse or walking three paces behind him. And Dad’s place? WHEREVER HE DAMN WELL WANTED.”
I wanted to explore rules both within a family and society. What if you had to live by an extreme set of rules that you have no control over? How might a ‘totalitarian regime’ function within a family? Would you end up doubting what you know to be true and adjust your behaviour to avoid punishment? Amber’s father isolates Amber and her mum, controls their money and activities, withdraws Amber from education and belittles her mum to the point where she finds it hard to function. Although physical violence from her dad is rare, the threat of it is very real. The Rules for him are a method of control – what they actually say becomes less and less relevant. It’s all about obedience to him and the Rules. Although Amber’s dad is a thoroughly unlikeable character, I can see how he’s got to this point, how a set of rules that he creates himself brings order to the chaos he feels within and counters his own feelings of failure or rage or being an outsider.
People like the character Will are attracted to the Rules as a way to shake things up, or find a new way of living, partly because they’re presented by a charismatic figure. But I used Amber’s dad to expose how a rigid ideology adopted as a one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to work with the difficulties and complexities of modern life and reality.
Setting aside the extreme rules of the book and a personality like Amber’s dad, what’s the appeal of rules for us all generally? As long ago as Aristotle, we’ve pondered why humans like to have rules or laws. We seem to like some order to the chaos. Push to the front of any queue and see what happens. Everything we do is governed by laws, a moral code, convention, manners, rules.
Before this strange year of 2020, look at any non-fiction bestseller chart and there’d be a smattering of self-help books giving us rules to happiness, dating, tidying, cleaning. We like to think there’s an easy answer. If only we had the list of rules, we too could achieve happiness, the perfect marriage, the tidiest house. If only…
As young adults there’s a host of imposed rules to navigate (that adults would probably push back against) like zero-tolerance discipline in schools or strict uniform rules. What’s the right balance to strike between order and chaos, and personal freedom? And for every family, rules are different and differently enforced. Phones at the table? Back by midnight? The terrible coronavirus and lockdown brought new rules on social distancing, hand-washing, exercise, self-isolation etc. We’ve all had to sacrifice our personal freedoms but the vast majority of the population have followed the new rules for the common good.
So, I hope you enjoy pondering rules and why we have them when you read The Rules.
Tracy Darnton’s The Rules is published by Stripes. Tracy’s last book The Truth About Lies was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and a World Book Night title. She lives in Bath and has taken to scrawling rules on the kitchen noticeboard.
Amber’s an expert when it comes to staying hidden – she’s been trained her whole life for it. But what happens when the person you’re hiding from taught you everything you know?
When a letter from her dad arrives, Amber knows she’s got to move – and fast. He’s managed to find her and she knows he’ll stop at nothing to draw her back into the extreme survivalist way of life he believes in.
All of a sudden the Rules she’s spent so long trying to escape are the ones keeping her safe. But for how long?
TW: domestic abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, gaslighting, ableist language, death, arson
The Rules is a tightly plotted, gripping thriller that I found myself getting lost in.
From the opening line, Darnton establishes a strong sense of danger and this underlying settling edge of paranoia that never truly leaves you. Like Amber you are on edge constantly, awaiting the next twist in the tale. You’re instantly pulled into Amber’s world and her basic backstory is established pretty quickly. However, the details and the true horror of her past is slowly exposed through flashbacks that really emphasise the immediate danger of her current situation.
The whole ‘prepper’ culture is spookily relevant for our current climate, adding to the unsettling nature of this book by reading it during a global pandemic. A lot of the behaviours described are ones that I saw people doing in my job or have heard about on the news, allowing me to envision a lot of the action a lot better. Amber’s dad distorts these ideas into a warped and dangerous form of abuse and control, slowly destroying everything Amber holds dear. It’s intensely claustrophobic and stifling, making the flashbacks at times very difficult to read.
Darnton’s writing is extremely tense and sharp, keeping you constantly engaged. She reminds you that monsters often hide in plain sight, appearing reasonable and charismatic. Amber’s dad is often able to hide his true nature from those in power, further isolating Amber and keeping her imprisoned. She pulls out some excellent twists, especially some that appear later on. You can never quite trust anything that’s going on and I was questioning everyone around Amber.
The Rules is an utterly captivating, fast-paced YA thriller that examines the true cost of survival and how far we will go in our pursuit of it.
Thank you again to Charlie Morris and Little Tiger Group for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review and please check out the other amazing posts on this blog tour!