Book Review: Break These Rules

Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself
Edited by Luke Reynolds
Published By: Chicago Review Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
Genre: Personal Essay Collection
224 pages
Buy it at Indiebound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. 
Source: provided by publisher

As a whole, Break These Rules was a bit of a disappointment. I wanted to love it, I really did, but most of the essays just weren't for me. The majority of the 35 YAL authors included in this collection, some whom I recognized by name and most of whom I didn't, try too hard and just don't hit the balance of inspiration and real-life honesty that I was hoping for when I received the book.

The essays in this collection are targeted at teens and they encourage them to go break traditional and long-standing rules, to question the norm, and to go against the status quo - all things I encourage both my own children and my teenage students on a regular basis. One overwhelming message running throughout the collection was the idea to be still, embrace calm, and be bored - ideas that are important and should be encouraged in everyone. There is also the standard advice to not worry about your appearance, not second guess yourself, and to trust your judgement and your instincts. So my disappointment isn't with the subject matter, but the collection misses the mark in its delivery of the message.

The authors' life experiences range from speech disorders to trips across Africa to hospital ER visits to being flat chested, but many of them had the same tone and I just can't get on board with that. A parent committing suicide and finding a note that says a boy thinks you're not pretty both have an impact, don't get me wrong, but not to the same degree or in the same way. This collection presents the authors' experiences without giving appropriate deference to more weighty topics or having the perspective to acknowledge differences between a one day struggle and a life altering event. And because of this, many of the authors seem like they are reaching and trying too hard to connect with their YA audience. 
There are some good pieces in the collection (see Final Word for my favorite), but for me, unfortunately the essays I had difficulty getting through outweighed the entertaining and/or inspiring ones. It just goes to show that being able to write fiction doesn't always translate into nonfiction or memoir writing.

 Final Word: Not really for me, though there are a few gems hidden in its pages that are worth finding (like Matthew Quick's "It's Better To Be Safe Than Sorry").

Summary via Goodreads:

If you’re a girl, you should strive to look like the model on the cover of a magazine. If you’re a boy, you should play sports and be good at them. If you’re smart, you should immediately go to college after high school, and get a job that makes you rich. Above all, be normal.


Wrong, say 35 leading middle grade and young adult authors. Growing up is challenging enough; it doesn’t have to be complicated by convoluted, outdated, or even cruel rules, both spoken and unspoken. Parents, peers, teachers, the media, and the rest of society sometimes have impossible expectations of teenagers. These restrictions can limit creativity, break spirits, and demand that teens sacrifice personality for popularity.

In these personal, funny, moving, and poignant essays, Kathryn Erskine (Mockingbird), Matthew Quick (The Silver Linings Playbook), Gary D. Schmidt (The Wednesday Wars), Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl), and many others share anecdotes and lessons learned from their own lives in order to show you that some rules just beg to be broken.