Bending the Rules
Bending the Rules is the second in Susan Andersen’s trilogy about three school friends. These three are fixing up an old mansion full of treasures that was left to them by Miss Agnes, the wealthy and eccentric matron who befriended them when they were young. Jane Kaplinski’s story was told in Cutting Loose and this book is about Poppy Calloway, a free spirited artist whose parents were hippies.
Poppy grew up in a commune and still has a few traces of her flower child upbringing, mostly manifested in her disinterest in material possessions. As an artist, she scratches out enough money to pay the bills by designing greeting cards and doing menu chalk boards for restaurants and coffee shops. As soon as Poppy and her friends can finish restoring Miss Agnes’s old mansion, she will have a nice little nest egg, but in the meantime she’s fine with things as they are even though she lives in an apartment the size of a shoebox, and drives an old beater of a car. In between chalking menus, Poppy pursues grants so she can teach art to talented teens from troubled families. When some of her customers have their buildings tagged by graffiti artists, a community task force recommends that the youths clean up their vandalism and then paint a decent mural on one of the buildings. Poppy offers to supervise the miscreants who did it, but the detective on the task force – Jason de Sanges – says no dice.
Jason hates crime because he grew up in a family of criminals. His grandfather, father, and brother all spent more time in prison than they did out of it, and young Jason was headed in the same direction until a tough old cop named Murphy took an interest in him and became his friend and mentor. Jason straightened out, joined the force and works in robbery – right now he is working on a series of jewelry store robberies. When Murphy finds out that Jason refused to work with the taggers, he reminds him that the mayor loves community task forces and creative sentencing, and promotion time is fast approaching. So Jason changes his mind and he and Poppy end up shepherding two boys and a girl.
Jason is sure that Poppy will be a ditz, but to his pleasant surprise, she is nothing of the sort. Poppy treats her charges with firmness and courtesy and demands the same from them. No swearing (not even by Jason), no dissing each other, and you must be on time and ready to work. Pretty soon, the taggers think Poppy is the real deal, and so does Jason.
There’s an external conflict when one of the taggers, Cory, witnesses a jewelry store robbery and the robber wants to eliminate her as a witness. He is a nasty piece of work and, of course, he turns out to be the perpetrator in the robbery cases that Jason is working on. Naturally, Poppy gets in harm’s way before the final happy ending. I think it’s the law that heroines must get in harm’s way in these kind of books.
As for the relationship between Jason and Poppy, it wasn’t all that compelling. I quite lost patience with Jason since he was self-loathing with no real reason for being that way. So he comes from a line of criminals – he’s been walking the straight and narrow for far longer than he ever walked on the wild side, but Jason is still convinced that he’s this close to throwing off his civilized veneer and turning bad. Frankly, I found his attitude inexplicable. When Jason cut himself off from Poppy and hurt her because he was so convinced that he was bad and about to join the Dark Side, I marked him down as a prime example of a TSTL male.
Poppy was a nicer character, and I was very pleased that she turned out to be sensible and level headed in her interactions with the three graffiti “artists.” The kids, especially the young girl, Cory, were fundamentally decent characters who were troubled but not hardened. While none of them were quite as memorable as PJ and Jared from Hot and Bothered, I liked them well enough, even though troubled teens are in first place on my list of characters I generally do not like. Susan Andersen does have a way with teen characters.
Bending the Rules was pleasant enough, but it’s not an example of Susan Andersen at her best. I will definitely read the last book in the series since I want to have everything wrapped up in a nice neat bow, and even when not at her best, Susan Andersen still manages to be an auto-buy for me.