Book Review: Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud – A Joyous Love Letter to Teens with Strict Parents, Forging Your Own Path and Happiness, and Haitian Culture

Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud. Reviewed by CW, The Quiet Pond.
Synopsis:

Simone Thibodeaux’s life is sealed in a boy-proof container.

Her strict Haitian immigrant parents enforce no-dating rules and curfews, and send Simone to an all-girls school. As for prom? Simone is allowed to go on one condition: her parents will select her date (a boy from a nice Haitian immigrant family, obviously).

Simone is desperate to avoid the humiliation of the set up — especially since she’s crushing on a boy she knows her parents wouldn’t approve of. With senior year coming to a close, Simone makes a decision. She and her fellow late-bloomer friends will create a Senior Year Bucket List of all the things they haven’t had a chance to do. On the list: kissing a boy, sneaking out of the house, skipping class (gasp!), and, oh yeah — choosing your own prom date.

But as the list takes on a life of its own, things get more complicated than Simone expected. She’ll have to discover which rules are worth breaking, and which will save her from heartbreak.

I have remembered every time I have felt seen by a book, where it felt like the book was a mirror into my life. I picked up Simone Breaks All the Rules because it sounded delightful – a teen rebels against her strict parents’ plan to set her up with a prom date of their choosing and decides to reclaim her senior year by doing all the things that she’s always wanted to do: kiss a boy, sneak out, skip class, and yes! choose her own prom date. Turns out, I did indeed get the delightful book that I had wanted – but I also got more. I also got a book that really understands what it’s like to live with strict parents. I felt seen by this book and I’ll love this book forever more for it.

Simone Breaks All the Rules follows the titular character Simone, a Haitian teen whose loving but strict immigrant parents have sealed her in a ‘boy-proof container’ – she’s not allowed to date, she has a curfew, and she attends an all-girls school. When Simone’s mother sets her up with a prom date, and knowing that her parents won’t approve of her crush, Simone decides to reclaim her senior year. Alongside two other teens with similarly strict parents, the girls make a ‘Senior Year Bucket List’, to do all the fun things that they’ve always wanted to do before the year ends.

The premise itself promises so much fun, and I was delighted with how this book follows through on that promise. Simone Breaks All the Rules is not only thoroughly fun and refreshing, but also so joyous. Having strict parents can come with baggage, but I was blown away by how the story concurrently portrays what it’s like to center the experience of having strict parents whilst also telling a story entirely centered on taking your own happiness and choices into your own hands.

What I also loved about Simone Breaks All the Rules is that Simone’s immigrant parents are strict, yes, but they aren’t portrayed as one-dimensionally awful or oppressive. Rather, I found how Simone’s parents were portrayed to be more nuanced and resonant with my own experiences as a teenager: parents who are strict and protective and dramatic, but are also ultimately loving and caring, even if they can be frustrating at times. The parent-child relationship that Simone has with her mother, in particular, was nuanced too; how sometimes our parents are also the product of their parents, and how pressures and expectations are often inherited.

More importantly though, I loved Simone Breaks All the Rules because this book really understands how it feels to have strict parents. It can be alienating, especially when your peers don’t understand why your parents are the way they are (i.e., “can’t you just tell your parents ‘no’?”), but also because living with your parents’ strict rules means less opportunities to connect with others and embed yourself in the high school social fabric. And when strict parents watch you like a hawk, are conscious of every step that you take, you can’t help but feel a little paranoid that they may be onto something that you ‘shouldn’t be doing’. The story captures all the complicated feelings about it, which is why I felt like Simone Breaks All the Rules was a love letter to teens with strict parents – the story just gets it.

So when Simone finds two other teens, Amita and Kira, who also have strict parents for different reasons, they connect instantly. From there, the three girls – later calling themselves the ‘HomeGirls’ – form the most wonderful friendship and solidarity where they unconditionally support each other but also share and revel in their joys with one another. I loved the friendships in the story so much.

Though the story has a really sweet and light-hearted romance (and the love interest is a Haitian teen who supports the Haitian community and the arts!), the highlight of this book is Simone’s coming-of-age character arc. Simone Breaks All the Rules is a story about coming into yourself, forging your own path, and taking your happiness into your own hands – even if it means breaking the rules to do so. In addition, it’s also about figuring out what you want – and how sometimes our ideas of what we want get in the way of what we really want and the good things that are in front of us. It also feels like a personal story about being proud to be Haitian, and the story celebrates Haitian identity and all its complexities and also Haitian culture.

MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED

Uplifting and absolutely joyous, Simone Breaks All the Rules is an incredible coming-of-age story that will resonate with people who have, or had, strict parents. Simone and her journey are delights, the friendships fresh and lovely, and the romance incredibly sweet. A perfect read for anyone looking for a light and fun story.

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A teen with strict parents makes a ‘Senior Year Bucket List’ with her fellow ‘late-bloomer friends’, but not everything on the list goes according to plan.

Perfect for: Readers looking for a fun yet emotional book; readers looking for a story with female friendships; readers who will resonate with Simone’s experiences.

Think twice if: You’re not looking for a story with complicated parent-child relationships.

Genre: young adult coming-of-age contemporary, with romance elements

Trigger/content warning: n/a

Find this book on:
Goodreads | Bookshop | Indiebound | Amazon

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