Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
“Hey, you try living in a secret underground lab for the first six years of your life and see if your understanding of the metaphorical isn’t a little shaky. The point is, people notice when you are late. But they also notice when you are early…GTX didn’t own me, not anymore. But they still controlled my life, down to the smallest details.”
Ariane Tucker lives her life by five strict rules: never trust anyone; remember they are always searching; don’t get involved; keep your head down; don’t fall in love. These rules keep her safe even as she and her “father” hide in the backyard of GTX, the company that created her by combining human and alien DNA. Running would be suspicious—her “father” and rescuer works for GTX—but hiding is also suspicious. The only thing to do is live completely normally, right under their noses. Rule five always seemed like an afterthought to Ariane—how can you fall in love if you don’t get involved?—until Zane Bradshaw asks her out as part of a revenge plot by the queen bee, Rachel Jacobs, granddaughter of the founder of GTX. But instead of going along with Rachel’s plan, Zane wants to get back at her for betraying him. Normally, Ariane wouldn’t get involved, but then she discovers that Rachel’s infuriating presence enables her to access extra-terrestrial powers she thought she had lost a long time ago. Unfortunately for Ariane, it’s pretty hard to keep your head down when the most popular girl in school has a vendetta against you. And, of course, the problem with pretending to be in love is that pretty soon, you aren’t sure what’s real.
Alternately narrated by Ariane and Zane, we see both sides of the story as Ariane struggles to keep her secret, and Zane tries to puzzle it out without violating her tentative trust. His point of view is down-to-earth, while Ariane is slightly alien despite her human conditioning. Ariane’s latent telepathic abilities also provide insight into a number of other characters, as well as a good dose of comic relief (keep an eye out for Mrs. Vanderhoff). Despite the sci-fi premise, the focus is on real issues including pressure from parents, negotiating friendships, and surviving bullying. Although Rachel comes across as a cut-and-dried mean girl, I was left with hope for more interesting and well-rounded future character development as the series continues (assuming she’s even around). Zane’s character development on the other hand, already has an interesting twist; most of it happened before the book started, when his mother abandoned his family on his birthday. The Rules solidifies this development when he decides to take action, being the person he wants to be, rather than continuing the impossible struggle to please his father, the local police chief. Ariane herself is a delight, blending alien cluelessness with the keen insights of an outside observer. Although the action was packed into the last quarter of the book, The Rules was a real page-turner, and the hint of a conspiracy that extends beyond GTX provides ample fodder for future books.