RULE OF THREES, by Marcy Campbell, Chronicle Books, May 11, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 10 and up)
A 12-year-old learns you can’t plan everything — especially when it comes to family — in Marcy Campbell’s Rule of Threes.
An interior design enthusiast, twelve-year-old Maggie Owens is accustomed to living her life according to her own precise plans. But when she learns about Tony, a mysterious half-brother her own age who needs a place to stay, any semblance of a plan is shattered. Tony’s mom struggles with an addiction to opioids, and now she’s called upon Maggie’s dad—who is also Tony’s dad—to take him in. On top of everything, Maggie must also come to terms with the Alzheimer’s afflicting her beloved grandmother.
While Maggie can strive for — and even succeed in — a picture perfect design, when it comes to family, there is no such thing as perfection. To work through the sudden struggles rocking her world, Maggie must learn the importance of having an open heart. —Synopsis provided by Chronicle Books
Rule of Threes refers to the phenomenon where “bad things always happen in threes.” In Maggie’s situation, that’s her half-brother, school troubles, and her grandmother’s failing memory. As is so often the case, these three elements are tightly intertwined.
Author Marcy Campbell has done an excellent job blending hard topics — divorce, substance abuse, neglect, etc. — with authentic interactions that run the gambit from humorous to heart-wrenching and everything in between.
That authenticity particularly comes into play with Campbell’s characters. Maggie has the sort of one-track mind that is both endearing and a little annoying. As the book progresses, so too does her world view. Tony is a multilayered mystery that becomes more compelling with each chapter.
The one character who is kind of flat, is Maggie’s dad, who, at first, comes across as a complete jerk. Though his reason for not initially wanting Tony is believable, it makes him look completely two-faced in comparison to his relationship with Maggie.
Rule of Threes isn’t the easiest of reads. Because of the topics, it’s not a book I would hand to younger middle readers. But older, more mature readers (ages 10-14) shouldn’t have a problem.
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