Review: Rules of Engagement – Cara Malone


Max and Ruby return for the second part of their trilogy and, as the title suggests, their relationship is starting to progress. As they move through graduate school and start to think about their future, both of them find bumps in their relationship that they hadn’t anticipated.

Again, let’s just get this said quickly. This book was worse than the first one and I wasn’t exactly over-enamored by that one.

On the positive side, Ruby’s character has improved and done an almost complete turn around from the behaviour she exhibited in the first book. On the negative side, Max has grown into an over-bearing and excessively jealous girlfriend and everything in the relationship has to be done to keep Max happy and comfortable.

After six months of being with Ruby, Max decides to buy a wedding ring and propose. Why? Because she’s worried that Ruby will reunited with her ex-girlfriend, Megan, over their long Summer break and will immediately go back to her. Except, if Max puts a ring on her finger that won’t happen. Seriously – that is what Max’s reasoning boils down to. I was genuinely surprised and pleased when the proposal scene came up and Ruby said no and explained why it was a bad idea to propose. The way this rejection and the aftermath was handled was well written. But it all pretty much turned out to be moot because a few months later, with very little resolved or evolved within their relationship Ruby proposes to Max and they’re going to get married anyway… but hey – at least they got engaged for a reason other than “I’m going to claim you as mine so you don’t get back with your ex”.

Max spends most of this book struggling with social interactions with Ruby’s family or struggling with her own jealousy. The former is very relatable and the way it is mused over by Ruby – who struggles with frustrations towards Max on and off throughout the book and then struggles with guilt about feeling frustrated – demonstrates quite well how the behaviour of an autistic person can be so completely misunderstood by a non-autistic person. What Max intended to be polite, uninvolved small talk so as to not upset anyone was interpreted initially by Ruby as Max not bothering to get to know her family. There is a lot of internal monologue for Ruby to demonstrate how much she has grown in her understanding of what Max manages every day.

Max’s jealousy, however, is not a good point in this book. Neither is the fact that Ruby’s life seems to revolve entirely around keeping Max comfortable. She doesn’t go out anymore as Max wants to stay in, eat take-away and watch films together. She stops going to her yoga class as often because Max is convinced the yoga teacher fancies her (which of course there’s a scene where the previously professional yoga instructor blushes her way through asking Ruby on a date and then we see a single scene of Max not being a jealous idiot and so that obviously means that Max’s jealousy and behaviour was justified and can claim some inkling of character growth), and Ruby also cannot have any part of the cake she wants at her own wedding because Max will not compromise. Everything is what Max wants and Ruby gets less and less of a say throughout.

Some of these things are phrased as being part of Max’s autism. Fine. I can say with confidence that I can be very rigid in my thinking, that my social difficulties have led to me fantastically messing up social situations that made things awkward for my partner (and will probably do so again), and that I don’t always remember that other people think differently to me. This can lead to some of the things that Max does in this book. The big difference is that I don’t continue to behave in that way when my partner explains why a compromise is important to her or why something I’ve said or done is actually really hurtful. I – like all people – have the capacity to grow as a person. Max seems to lack that which – when contrasted against the growth Ruby has made – is uncomfortable to read. There are certainly scenes where Ruby is shown to have not realised how difficult things are for Max (when Max disappears from a party and tries to self-regulate with blankets stacked on top of each other is a great example) and she works to manage her expectations, but there’s never the reverse. Max just gets a “Get out of jail free” card, and I didn’t particularly like that.

Finally, every single time these two should have had an in-depth conversation or should have managed a problem that was building between them – they had sex instead. Almost every instance of sex in this book was either to avoid a problem or to try to fix a problem. Not a healthy coping strategy… If I got to the end of the first book and could not understand why I was supposed to think they were a good couple, you can bet I got to the end of this one and went “These guys should definitely not be getting married…”

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