I picked up Ann Martin’s Rain Reign (recommended for ages nine and up) with anticipation as well as trepidation. I’m a huge fan of many of the author’s books, including "A Corner of the Universe," which won a Newbery Honor. I'm also a fan of word games. But have they been overdone? I worried the story might get lost in the wordplay, so to speak. Instead, the very first chapter title of "Rain Reign": "Who I Am – A Girl Named Rose (Rows)" grabbed my attention, and I couldn’t put the book down.
As Rose herself tells us, she has an “official diagnosis” of high-functioning autism, Asperger’s syndrome. This causes her to blurt things out, and some of her classmates label her as weird. Even so, her life is filled with bright spots. Two caring, smart teachers. An adoring and understanding uncle. And now her dad has brought home a stray dog who becomes her connection to making friends. She names her dog Rain.
Obsessed and fascinated with prime numbers and homophones, Rose keeps extensive lists. She calls them out. She over-explains the word connections to most anyone who’ll listen. When her teacher points out that homophones and homonyms are often interchangeable, she tells Rose that it’s a common mistake, often confusing. The teacher’s answer to Rose’s question about the difference between a mistake and breaking a rule could well be a theme of this poignant novel: “Making a mistake is accidental. Breaking a rule is deliberate.”
Although Rose feels fiercely that rules are important, her world overflows with mistakes. From life-changing choices made by her hard-drinking dad to moral dilemmas she struggles with. Should she return the dog she loves to another family? What can she share with her dad – without causing family discord or even abuse – and what with her beloved Uncle Weldon who tries to protect Rose? The author has created multi-faceted, complex characters and situations that make "Rain Reign" sing.
In this newest novel, Ann Martin, who may be best remembered for her Babysitters Club series, nails the voice of her fifth-grade narrator. She has made Rose a funny, remarkable girl, thus avoiding some of the pitfalls that might have turned this into a less memorable story about a family with problems. What could become tedious in the hands of another writer – the repetition of homonyms, for example – is brilliantly woven into the narrative here. “Rose Howard’s Rules of Homonyms” lists five of them. But Rose advises readers who aren’t interested, who’ve “heard enough about homonyms and you don’t want to learn my rules, stop reading here and skip to Chapter Four.”
Those who appreciate rules, however, will discover that foreign words, contractions, abbreviations, and proper nouns are not allowed. My younger self would have taken that as an invitation, pulled out a new notebook, and started my own list.
I predict there won’t be a better book published this year than "Rain Reign" – or a more authentic, touching, unforgettable character than Rose Howard.