School Rules Are Optional by Alison Hart

A review by Nalini Haynes

School Rules Are Optional is a whodunnit for primary schoolers. Jesse McCann’s jumper is missing. Later they find the corpse. But whodunnit? Jesse is in grade 6 with old friends, old enemies and some new kids. Did any of the above do it?

Jesse is not afraid to reach out to others but sometimes they bite (not literally). But he is afraid to admit he lost his jumper. And he’s VERY afraid he’ll lose his replacement jumper.

Then there’s the school camp. Jesse HATES school camp.

Queue highjinks.

Plothole

There is one gigantic (tiny?) hole in this story. But I won’t go there because spoilers. Hopefully kids old enough to read this novel won’t test this hole.

Representation

School Rules Are Optional is one of those books that might have a diverse cast – especially with one of the characters called Huong – but it equally might be white bread. I mean, Huong’s twin sister is Amy. It’s not spelt out so diversity is easy to miss but I think racial diversity exists in this school.

There are girls with personality and agency in this book. And Jesse’s group doesn’t register any gender-divide.

However, there don’t seem to be any disabled characters. There was ALWAYS at least one disabled person in EVERY class I ever attended and sometimes more than one. My son’s prep class had two kids using wheelchairs so he’s accepted that kind of diversity as normal. That and helping me read bus destinations from the time he could read numbers, and disability is normal. For him. Because it’s lived experience.

But it takes inclusion in all things – real classes and fictional classes too – to change a culture, to increase acceptance. I felt invisible in this story and suspect disabled children will need to look to nondisabled characters’ attributes to feel “seen” in this story too. A lot like girls have to look to boys’ characters’ attributes in other stories.

The verdict

School Rules Are Optional is a fun story aimed at primary school children. Not only is it entertaining but I think a lot of kids worried about going into grade 6 may find reassurance within these pages as well as making new friends. Representation of girls is good. People of color are, I think, represented but subtly. Disabled people don’t seem to feature at all. I was surprised to find that School Rules Are Optional seemed relatable even to my experience of grade 6 all those years ago. Not only does this novel offer entertainment but those families reading this together may find an opportunity to open up and share stories. I highly recommend this novel. 4 out of 5 stars.

Read this if you enjoyed How To Make A Pet Monster.

Book details

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781760525712
Imprint: A & U Children (Allen & Unwin)
Format: Paperback, 208 pages
Released: 2020
Category: Children Ages 8-12

School rules are optional: a boy laughs, standing in the overflow from an exploded toilet with school debris and ducks everywhere