by Nancy Holder
Cover Artist: Svein Nordrum / Getty Images & iStockPhotos
Review by Katie Carmien
Delacorte Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780385741002
Date: 23 June 2015 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Sixteen-year-old Robin Brissette is thrilled to be invited to the most exclusive party her town has to offer--fellow junior August DeYoung's scavenger hunt, attended by all Callabrese High's most popular and influential students and featuring deluxe prizes for the winner of the hunt. She's sure it'll be a night to remember. She might even get gorgeous Kyle to notice her. But then she finds out she wasn't supposed to be invited at all--and then the hunt turns sinister. The objects they're sent to find are creepy and personal, poking at the hidden sins of the guests, daring them to reveal the truth about the things they've done. Then people start dying, one by one. Someone is gunning for the beautiful elite of Callabrese High, and Robin's stuck in the middle. It's follow the killer's rules...or die.
The Rules by Nancy Holder and Debby Viguié is a homage to slasher movies like the original Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and it knows it. I appreciated the little asides, and the way it subverted some known slasher tropes while keeping others. Robin, of course, is obviously set up as the Final Girl--as the only one not invited to the party, she is by default the nicest person in most scenes, does not drink or do drugs, and is heavily implied to be a virgin. Yet she is not your average Final Girl. Likewise, August is something of a subversion himself--though a real explanation would require far too many spoilers. Suffice it to say I appreciated the way he was handled, and found it refreshingly realistic. The Rules does ask for some serious suspension of disbelief, but considering it's source material, there's no reason not to go ahead and give it.
While the "rules" at the beginning of each character's narration serve as an interesting insight into their personalities, I still felt disconnected from everyone but August and Robin. It's a good idea to get us into a character's head so that we feel sorry when they die, but the follow-through isn't terribly successful, probably because Holder and Viguié try to include every character they introduce. If The Rules only jumped between four or five characters, or even just August and Robin, this technique would have worked much better. As it is, the frequent switches dragged me in and out of the narration, sometimes making it hard to pay attention to the story. Another issue I had was that Callabrese is supposed to be in Southern California, a famously diverse area, yet there is only one nonwhite character, Praveen.
As for the killer, I am on the one hand impressed--they were smart, terrifying, and original, and their true identity completely surprised me--and on the other pretty annoyed. "Insane" is a boring thing for a killer to be, and unoriginal and inaccurate besides. (Actual insane people are much more likely to be murdered.) Why can't a killer just like hurting people? Or even just want vengeance without having been driven crazy by mistreatment? That's far more interesting than the hackneyed trope of a pyscho with a knife. I felt it was lazy of the authors to go that route, and was expecting better given how surprised I was by the first twist.
Still, while it isn't quite a must-read for horror fans, The Rules is a creepily good time.