Weird Rules to Follow by Kim Spencer

Review by Evelyn Hussey

Orca Book Publishers, October 18, 2022

192 pages, paperback, $12.95 CAD, 9781459835580

Middle Grade, ages 9-12, grades 4-7

Fiction, Historical Fiction

Abby stops talking and looks at me. Her face says Can I help you with something? Even though she doesn’t speak.

I smile sweetly at her.

“What, no white friends for you to hang around today?” she asks. Her tone is razor-sharp.

I can’t believe she said that!

I’ve never had problems with her before. We’ve played together at church many times.

I don’t reply. I just adjust my direction and walk past them.

Her words repeat over and over in my mind. What, no white friends for you to hang around today?

Lara isn’t Native and she is my best friend. Is that what Abby means?

I start going down the list of my other school friends — they aren’t Native either. I guess I haven’t thought about things in that way before. Or maybe I have?

From dance classes, sleepovers, giggling about crushes, birthday parties, and school, eleven-year-old Mia and her best friend Lara do everything together. But why is Mia treated differently? In Weird Rules to Follow, Kim Spencer writes about interracial friendships and the difficulties of growing up facing racism.

Mia lives in the fishing town of Prince Rupert, British Columbia with her grandmother, her mother who struggles with alcohol abuse, as well as an assortment of relatives who often come and go. Her non-Indigenous best friend Lara lives with both her parents and little brother in a big house—a perfect nuclear family compared to Mia’s home life. Yet despite these differences, Mia and Lara remain best friends who are always there to support each other, paying no mind to their differences. But as Mia and Lara get older, Mia begins to notice how adults treat her differently than Lara—following her in stores, making comments about her Indigeneity—and soon, this treatment begins to affect their friendship.

Kim Spencer writes in vignettes that reflect Mia’s experience growing up Indigenous in the 1980s, including the racism that came with it. This book doesn’t really have a plot, rather it is a collection of memories and experiences Mia has as her and Lara’s friendship grows strained. Readers may become a bit confused with the timeline of events as Mia’s memories jump back and forth between the present and the past.

Mia’s voice, narrated in the first person, is strong in her love for Lara, but also expresses confusion about why she is treated differently. She recalls micro-aggressions with innocent confusion and later with solemn knowingness, her questions reflecting the unfairness children feel when facing injustices. These ‘weird rules’ Mia must follow never seem to affect Lara, and Mia is both envious and hurt that her friend has it easier than her. Mia talks about growing up in ways that every kid can relate to, but as a reader, I wish I was able to feel Mia’s reactions more—to see more descriptions of her raw emotion at times she felt angry or sad.

As Mia recounts growing up in Prince Rupert and Kitkatla—her reserve—readers are introduced to the culture, time, and place of this then-small fishing town. Mia expresses and appreciates her culture and all the traditions that come with it. Sm’algyax—one of the Tsimshian languages—words and phrases are woven throughout the novel. I also learned about traditional food Mia loves, like oolichan grease with blueberries and salmon. This introduction to Mia’s life allows readers to become more acquainted with Tsimshian culture.

Weird Rules to Follow is a bittersweet and compassionate novel about growing up Indigenous in a small British Columbian town. This story allows young readers to connect with Mia, while also learning the importance of respecting and acknowledging Tsimshian peoples’ culture in the process.

Evelyn Hussey is a BA psychology student minoring in creative writing at UBC. She loves reading memoirs/creative nonfiction as well as realistic fiction. When she is not reading or writing she spends her time rock climbing, binging true crime content or with her beloved dog, Dipsea.

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