Monday, July 21, 2008

Don't Expect Happy Endings: Sarah Simpson's Rules for Living by Rebecca Rupp

Sarah Simpson's Rules for Living

1. Don't lie.
2. Don't trust anybody but cats.
3. Don't expect happy endings.
4. Drink skim milk.
5. Avoid blondes.

Sarah Simpson is always making lists, for herself and for everyone she knows, whether she likes them or not, so when she gets a diary for Christmas from her aunt, she decides to put it to use as a combination journal and list of lists. But first she introduces herself, and we realize that Sarah is a girl with no illusions.

My name is Sarah Simpson. I have orange hair and I am fat.

With that flat statement, that is the last we hear about those issues.

But Sarah has other biggies on her list. Her dad moved out on the previous New Year's Day to marry his "soul mate" Kim, whom Sarah perceptively describes as "having long blond hair she's always flinging around to make sure that everybody notices that she has long blond hair." Her mom Sally has a non-boyfriend boyfriend named Jonah with whom Sarah also find much fault (singing "We Shall Overcome," wearing shirts printed with sea horses, being bald and bearded, among others), and Sarah herself seems to have no friends at all, unless you count dorky Horace Zimmerman who plays Hades to Sarah's Persephone in the school play.

On the anniversary of her father's departure for California with the aforementioned Kim, Sarah makes her own list of New Year's resolutions:

1. Get rid of Kim.
2. Get rid of Jonah.
3. Dye my hair.
4. Move to Australia.

Sarah's yearly nadir comes when, overwhelmed with her own need for her mother's full attention, Sarah tells Jonah's five-year-old son George that his dead mother is not, as he believes, a twinkling star in the sky, just dead and buried and gone. Surprisingly it's Horace Zimmerman who finally consoles George and corrects Sarah as he tells them that all humans really are made of elements from exploding supernovas, so that in a way we are all made from from stars. It's a new cosmic view for Sarah.

As the year progresses, Sarah's wry lists are replaced by new ones which journal the changes in her life. Despite herself, things start looking up, and it seems Sarah won't be going to Australia any time soon. As her closing journal entry says,

Back in January, I felt like my life was over and nothing would ever be happy again. Now I think I was full of crap. Sally says I'm growing up. Horace thinks I'm developing a political conscience. Jonah says time has a way of healing all kinds of wounds. George thinks it has something to do with stars and bears. I'm not sure. But for right now, I'm hoping for the best.


1. It's what you are, not what you look like, that's important.
2. Poeple can make a difference.
3. Things that fall apart have a way of coming back together again.
4. We're all made of little bits of stars.

5. Even Kim.

Sarah Simpson's Rules for Living is a slim little chronicle of a frank and funny girl who, like Persephone (whom she plays in an unbecoming pillowcase toga, with toilet tissue flowers encircling her hair) finds her way out of her own black hole and into something like the spring in her seventh-grade year.

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