Review: The Rules of Love – Cara Malone

TheRulesofLove

The first in a trilogy about the relationship between two students, Max and Ruby. After reading a few LGBT novels which featured men on the autistic spectrum, I was interested to find this set with a woman on the spectrum.

I think I’m going to have to be upfront and get my main thought out the way before completing the rest of the review. As an adult who is both autistic and a lesbian, who therefore generally doesn’t find much in the way of representation in fiction, I was quite disappointed in this book. Now let’s dissect that.

Some of this disappointment, I believe, is because I find many “Romance Tropes” quite jarring. So there didn’t seem to be much in the way of Max and Ruby’s growing attraction to each other; there were some mentions of how amazingly beautiful they both were (as characters always must be in romance novels) and some awkward conversations about how they were attracted to each other, and then they had sex. And despite Max’s complete and utter lack of any kind of experience regarding intimacy, she was of course amazing at it the first time around and every other time they had sex was amazing and earth-shattering and so on… These are romance tropes, I get that and so I give the novel some leeway there.

My biggest disappointment was around how Max and her autism were characterised  throughout. Max is introduced as a character who is very particular about her language, she corrects other characters who are not particular and specific in their language. This is fine, it is one way that autistic traits present (I’ve done it a lot throughout my life). Max then goes on to use language inconsistent with this such as “three month anniversary”. Max is also very driven by her studies and her work, dedicated to following her career path and achieving the goals she sets for herself. Except after a week or so of sleeping with Ruby, she’s happy to give up some of those goals. Max is initially presented as someone who is quite self-sufficient, who has no interest in relationships and is cautious about relationships (of any sort) with other people. Except Ruby is so beautiful that from the first time they have sex, she becomes increasingly clingy and has decided that Ruby is the one woman for her forever.

Some of these may seem like a silly nit-picks while others may not, but I think my main issue with it is it seemed like autistic traits were introduced at the beginning and then allowed to fade away when they became inconvenient, then brought back when they were needed. The clingy-ness I suppose could be representative of how one person can become an autistic person’s special interest – but that’s not a healthy basis for a relationship. Which leads to the other real issue I have reading this, which was that at no point did I think “Ah yes, these two are really good for each other”. Ruby’s behaviour is cruel at points – especially given that she is shown researching autism – and much of their relationship just seems to be built on sex. It was rushed through each stage and then by the end, the expectation seems to be that the reader will agree that they make a sweet and happy couple. I never got that feeling.

Which is a genuine shame because at the beginning of the book I did like both main characters (and secondary character, Mira, who decides to share Max’s autism diagnosis without her consent because she has a feeling that Max fancies Ruby…not a good reason to share a diagnosis without consent, and this is brushed over. It tarred her character a bit for me). On a personal level, Max’s autistic traits were relatable to me, as was her anxiety about standing out as different. Ruby was sympathetic as a young woman recovering from a broken heart over her long-term girlfriend breaking up with her. Then as the book went on, I found myself liking Ruby less and less, and finding Max more and more confusing.

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