Break These Rules Fails to Resonate With Students

August 29, 2017

In an 1839 letter, legendary writer Edgar Allan Poe quipped, “I intend to put up with nothing that I can put down.” And, unfortunately, this quote is largely emblematic of the inherent problem within Robinson’s school-wide summer read, Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself; it’s a well-intentioned, but ultimately underwhelming book geared for teens that fails to captivate.

Published in 2013, Break These Rules is a compilation of 35 essays written by young adult authors reflecting on important life lessons they learned from their youth. The essay topics range from body image to following one’s heart, and each lesson is designed to feed into the central theme of, as the book’s subtitle implies, “speaking up, standing out, and being yourself.” Because each essay feeds into this major, generic theme, the book is highly repetitive. While different essays focus on different, more specific aspects of this theme, they’re often redundant in their messages (or their messages are quite similar), leading to overemphasis of repeated themes involving perseverance, individualism, and many others, thus making Break These Rules quite dull at times.

The repetition of many key messages throughout the book is also indicative of its clear penchant for cliché. The book is marketed as one that aims to break the mold and obliterate the dangerous rules of society among adolescents, but truthfully, many of the important words of wisdom are ones that current teens have already heard, as many of these messages have become insufferably cliché in modern society, like the aforementioned messages of never giving up, always following your own path, and more that are frequently alluded to within the work.

This isn’t to say that the entirety of the book is flawed, or that none of the essays have their bright spots, which they do. Break These Rules is particularly effective when the essay authors aren’t afraid to be deeply personal, insightful, and raw in how their life experience tie into the messages they are trying to convey. Two great examples of this come toward the beginning of the book: “Don’t Tell” by Neesha Meminger, and “Be Clean!” by Gary D. Schmidt. In Meminger’s essay, she recounts how, despite the potentially severe consequences and punishments, she always used to question the misogynistic Indian culture she faced in the state of Punjab, in addition to the racism she faced upon moving to Canada. In Schmidt’s more lighthearted essay, he tells the story of how he defiantly stood up against a preacher’s distorted view of what it means to sin. Both of these stories (and more throughout the book, like “Don’t Get Fat” by Lisa Burstein, about body image and eating disorders) contain personal anecdotes that are applicable to the lessons being conveyed, making the essays more unique in and of themselves. Some essays, like the one directly preceding Schmidt’s, entitled “Don’t Quit” by Carl Deuker, are noticeably less effective because—while they’re written well—they don’t contain the same level of meaningful personal stories and connections to the lessons at hand.

In addition, the book is well-written across the board, with solid flow and language found in each essay. This is, of course, a testament to the impressive array of writing talent and perspectives featured in the work, including Matthew Quick (The Silver Linings Playbook), Kathryn Erskine (Mockingbird), and other authors with noteworthy credentials.

The Verdict

While Break These Rules is well-written and contains some very strong and insightful essays, these positive elements are outweighed by the book’s overwhelming inclusion of clichés, not to mention its repetition of themes and tendency to become downright boring.



  • Well-written throughout
  • Some genuinely great essay selections
  • Very clichéd
  • Repetitive in its thematic undertones
  • Quite dull, from time to time

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