Saturday, May 25, 2013

Review: THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING by Ashley Elston

She’s been six different people in six different places: Madeline in Ohio, Isabelle in Missouri, Olivia in Kentucky . . . But now that she’s been transplanted to rural Louisiana, she has decided that this fake identity will be her last.

Witness Protection has taken nearly everything from her. But for now, they’ve given her a new name, Megan Rose Jones, and a horrible hair color. For the past eight months, Meg has begged her father to answer one question: What on earth did he do – or see – that landed them in this god-awful mess? Meg has just about had it with all the Suits’ rules — and her dad’s silence. If he won’t help, it’s time she got some answers for herself.

But Meg isn’t counting on Ethan Landry, an adorable Louisiana farm boy who’s too smart for his own good. He knows Meg is hiding something big. And it just might get both of them killed. As they embark on a perilous journey to free her family once and for all, Meg discovers that there’s only one rule that really matters — survival.
Whether we bloggers like to admit it or not, we sometimes start a book with biases. It's hard not to. I try to avoid reviews of books I know I'm going to read, but word gets around. I sort of stuck Rules on the backburner, because everything I'd heard or read about it had been tepid at best. I've had so many problems this year with uninspiring books, and I just couldn't bring myself to pick it up, despite being thrilled to pieces when it first arrived in my mailbox.

In this case, I think my biases worked in my favor, for while Rules didn't blow me away, I enjoyed myself much more than I thought possible.

I must say that I adored the way Ms. Elston decides to open the story. The main character and her family have been ripped from their beds in the middle of the night, moved to yet another location and forced to choose yet another identity. The main character chooses the name "Meg" after the Meg Ryan playing on the TV and her sister becomes Mary. The Witness Protection "suits" chop off their hair, dye it, hand Meg a pair of colored contacts, and give both girls their backstory. They are Meg and Mary Jones. They're from Arkansas. They just moved to Louisiana with their parents. That's all anyone really needs to know.

That's all the surface stuff. What I loved was what was brewing underneath. Despite what we see in movies and on television. Witness Protection is not fun. It's not an adventure or a game. Meg and her family didn't lose their lives just once. Every time they move, they lose everything again and again and again. Homes. Jobs. Belongings. Hobbies. Schools. Friends. Boyfriends. Gone, again and again. At this, their sixth move, Meg has given up. She doesn't care anymore. The only thing she focuses on is taking care of her little sister and in enacting The Plan.

The Plan is a two-pronged idea: Find out what Dad did to get them thrown into Witness Protection, and don't make any connections at the new location. Unfortunately, Dad is a master evader, and Meg has caught the interest of drawly Southern farm boy, Ethan. Add in the catty cheerleader at school, her flirtatious boyfriend, and Meg' powerful nightmares...

Well, you can probably see where this is going. And that's okay. I didn't expect a harrowing thriller from Rules, and I didn't get one. Most of the twists are pretty straightforward, and the bad guy is immediately recognizable from the moment he steps on the page. This is not a book for anyone expecting mind-blowing revelations or anything too terribly deep. It's a formulaic book, but there's nothing wrong with that. More interestingly, Ms. Elston makes some choices within the confines of the formula that I found fascinating.


For instance, in the opening chapter, I love how she drives home how much Meg and her family have lost. Homes, jobs, and even friends can be replaced in time. But Meg and Mary have lost two irreplaceable things: their security and their identities. At any point, Meg and her family could be killed, but she doesn't know by whom or why. They can't even talk about their old life. Literally all Meg and Mary still retain from their old lives are their nicknames: Sissy and Teeny Tiny. Even those would be taken away if "the suits" found out.

I also love who Meg was before being taken away. She wasn't the bland everygirl one might expect in such a story. Well, she is now, but before Witness Protection engulfed them, she had been a rich, somewhat spoiled Mean Girl. I was totally not expecting that, and I loved the little twist on my expectations. Such a background also means she isn't taken in by the shenanigans of local Mean Girl Emma and her flirtatious boyfriend Ben.

Some people might claim there's a love triangle in Rules, as both Ethan and Ben show a marked interest in Meg, but there really isn't. Ethan is interested in Meg. Meg is kinda interested in Ethan, despite The Plan. Ben isn't interested in Meg, but just wants to make Emma jealous. Meg knows and isn't interested in Ben anyways. It's all very neat, and I loved that Meg wasn't pulled into Ben's games.

Oh! And let's talk about Ethan. Love that boy. Though through-and-through a Louisiana farmboy, Ethan isn't portrayed as a hick or a yokel, which I adore. Don't get me wrong, he still does typical "redneck" activities like hog hunting and plowing and fishing, but Ms. Elston avoids typecasting, which is lovely. He's also a genuinely sweet person, caring for Meg and Mary as people instead of as a "mysterious and therefore desirable new girl" and "her kid sister." And while the two of them get along suspiciously well, I do appreciate the attempts Ms. Elston made to make their connection a little less extraordinary. For instance, how many times have you read where the couple in question magically share the same taste in music? All the freaking time. Here, Ethan dislikes most of Meg's favorite bands, but he makes her a CD anyways, because he knows she'll appreciate it. Sweet, huh?
When I Tumbl'd "farm boy," this came up.
I'll just leave this here...
Since I had my priorities and expectations in order before starting Rules, I didn't face many of the disappointments encountered by other readers. Instead, I'm left with only two major gripes. The first is the stupid choices made by Meg and, to some extent, Ethan. Let's just say that their plan in the latter fourth of the book made very little sense to me.

The second is the ending. Again, I can't say much, but I was not pleased. It was all very deus ex machina, came out of nowhere, lacked an emotional punch, and was just overall confusing. I assume it's setting the book up for maybe a companion novel (not a sequel, hopefully) down the line, but I thought it was all very lame.

Anyways, the moral of this review is that we all have biases. Sometimes those biases can be a good thing, because they temper expectations and allow you to be surprised. The main thing is not to let those biases get in the way, or you might miss a great story. So, with that in mind, I suggest you all check out The Rules for Disappearing. You may like what you find.

Points Added For: Ethan, Teeny, the emotional impact of being ripped from one's home.

Points Subtracted For: All the loose ends, that weird ending, strange character choices.

Good For Fans Of: Sweet romances, great sister moments, what I suppose could be called Thriller/Mystery Lite.

Notes For Parents: Language, making out, underage drinking.

Note: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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