For the past 10 years—ever since the man she now calls “Father” smuggled her out of the high-security science facility that created and imprisoned her—Ariane Tucker, formerly known only as GTX-F-107, has lived by the following rules:
1. Never trust anyone.
2. Remember they are always searching.
3. Don’t get involved.
4. Keep your head down.
5. Don’t fall in love.
Project Paper Doll was ultrasecret and ultraexpensive, and Ariane’s disappearance represented the loss of years of research and millions of dollars, so her father hid her in plain sight: right under GTX’s nose, mere miles from the very facility he’d freed her from.
It’s not particularly easy for her to blend. She’s smaller than most people, and her bones are more fragile; her skin is so pale that it’s almost gray, she has to wear colored contacts to disguise her irises, which are almost as dark as her pupils; and her telepathic abilities make it hard to be in group situations. You know, like in the high school cafeteria. Or an assembly in the gym. Or any number of other places she has to go in order to appear “normal.” Socially...well, as she puts it, “Hey, you try living in a secret underground lab for the first six years of your life and see if your understanding of the metaphorical isn’t a little shaky,” and that’s not even getting into the whole trained-to-be-an-assassin thing.
I admit it: When I got to Rule #5, I snickered. Because, come on: Who’s going to include that on the list of things for a 6-year-old human-alien hybrid to avoid? But after a very few pages, I warmed right up to Stacey Kade’s The Rules. Ariane’s narration is funny and thoughtful, and her paladin tendencies make her immediately likable. In order to disappear into the background, she observes human behavior (and high school culture) very closely, and her habit of constantly second-guessing each action with an “Okay, what would a regular human do?” keeps her perspective fresh while also evoking all of Dexter Morgan most entertaining moments.
The love interest, Zane Bradshaw, took significantly longer to win me over. He doesn’t like how his popular friends treat people, but since he only has “two years left,” he’s too apathetic to do anything about it. Slowly, though, he won me over, partly because of his impressive powers of observation, and partly because he—a lacrosse player who towers over tiny, breakable Ariane—has such immediate respect and gratitude for her protective tendencies. It doesn’t hurt that the love story works: Happily, it isn’t a case of insta-love—she’s far too prickly for that—and they actually get to know each other before they get all kissy-face so, when it does happen, it’s all the more enjoyable.
While the first third is occasionally repetitive, and the storyline and the basic conflicts—hiding one’s true self, do-I-trust-the-cute-boy-or-don’t-I?, a battle with a borderline sociopathic queen bee who just so happens to be Ariane’s creator’s granddaughter—are pretty familiar, the snappy writing makes it a standout. Best of all, it works on a simple level as an emotionally engaging romantic thriller (the last quarter had me all stressed out, stomach in knots!), but it’ll also make readers think about the rules we all live with and by every day: commonly-accepted social contracts, and the ones that vary from household to household and person to person.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.