Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: The Six Rules of Maybe

Deb Caletti
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Scarlet's a Nice Person. The sort of girl who looks out for not only her family and friends, but also her neighbors and strangers. She's constantly doing good deeds to try and brighten other people's days, whether that means encouraging her best friend's crush on a guy she's never spoken to or warning her older neighbors about email scams. When her older sister, Juliet, comes home pregnant and married, Scarlet's way of living for everybody else is put to the test as she finds herself developing feelings for Juliet's husband Hayden, who is, like Scarlet herself, a Nice Person.

Upfront I should say that I'm a sucker for stories about sisters, so I was a bit predisposed to like this one. Scarlet and Juliet are, like many sisters, different in some important ways. Though they shared the same upbringing (single mother, absentee father), their mother has always been closer to Juliet, the star. While Scarlet's quiet, nice, and unselfish above all else, her older sister is a little bit rebellious and a lot selfish. When she enters a room, things quickly become all about her. Despite this, Juliet's husband is surprisingly solid and kind - more like Scarlet than Juliet. He, too, is incredibly unselfish and it's easy to see that he loves Juliet completely even while she holds him at arm's length.

At times The Six Rules of Maybe can be a difficult read to get through, no matter how wonderfully it's done. This is because Scarlet is such an insular character; she exists so deep in her own head that the distance between this character (who, yes, is narrating the book) and the actual events sometimes feels enormous and foggy. There were a few scenes where I honestly wasn't sure what had just happened until one of the other, more plain-spoken characters, mentioned something about it. This can be annoying and I'd guess even more annoying if you're not one for character-driven, literary, or slow-going stories, but it fits well with Scarlet's introspective and meek personality.

Scarlet wants to save everyone around her. She wants to save Juliet; she wants to save Hayden. She wants their baby to have an unbroken family. But she also wants to be with Hayden and is getting a little tired of constantly being the good one, the nice one. This book is a little heartbreaking sometimes; Scarlet, despite her feelings for Hayden, mostly does everything she can to help everyone around her. Yet when her good intentions have unintended consequences, the people she's tried to help turn on her - in some cases suddenly and meanly. The story here, the slow change in how Scarlet sees things and her journey over the course of the novel, is written so, so well, and so realistically. Scarlet, Hayden, Juliet, and the rest of the characters are complex; nobody in this novel is one-note. Juliet comes the closest, with her selfishness and the way she so obviously takes all the attention away from Scarlet, but the love between these two sister comes through loud and clear and, like Scarlet, Juliet has her own hidden scars to deal with.

There's some very interesting stuff here dealing with love, especially different types of romantic love both requited and unrequited. The story deals nicely with who these characters love, and why, and what happens when it isn't perfect. In the extended cast of characters (which includes Scarlet's friends and neighbors as well as her family) there are many relationships and almost-relationships, all of which are unique.

Caletti has a literary writing style and her imagery is often breathtakingly beautiful. This is an incredibly well-crafted book with complex characters and relationships. It's not for everyone, but it's definitely worth checking out if you're a contemporary YA fan.

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