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House Rules

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A compelling, at times horrifying work that is impossible to put down, House Rules will stand beside Running With Scissors and The Glass Castle as a memoir that cracks open the shell of a desperately dysfunctional family with impressive grace and humour. Rachel Sontag grew up the daughter of a well-liked doctor in an upper middle class suburb of Chicago. The view from outsi A compelling, at times horrifying work that is impossible to put down, House Rules will stand beside Running With Scissors and The Glass Castle as a memoir that cracks open the shell of a desperately dysfunctional family with impressive grace and humour. Rachel Sontag grew up the daughter of a well-liked doctor in an upper middle class suburb of Chicago. The view from outside couldn’t have been more perfect. But within the walls of the family home, Rachel’s life was controlled and indeed terrorized by her father’s serious depression. In prose that is both precise and rich, Rachel’s childhood experience unfolds in a chronological recounting that shows how her father became more and more disturbed as Rachel grew up. A visceral and wrenching exploration of the impact of a damaged psyche on those nearest to him, House Rules will keep you reading even when you most wish you could look away. In the middle of the night, Dad sent Mom to wake me. In my pajamas, I sat across from them in the living room. I was sure Grandma had died and I remember deciding to stay strong when Dad told me. “What did you say to her?” he asked. His elbows rested in his lap. “What do you mean?” “You spent a good half hour alone in that hospital room. What did you talk about?” “I don’t know, Dad” “What do you mean, you don’t know? You know. You know exactly what you talked to her about.” “You talked about me, Rachel.” “No. I didn’t.” “To my own mother?” . . . . I wondered how he’d been with Mom, how she’d missed the signs. He couldn’t have just turned crazy all of a sudden. I wondered if his own father had infected him with anger. But mostly, I wanted to know what he saw in me that caused him to break up inside. Was it in my being born or in my growing up? --from House Rules

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A compelling, at times horrifying work that is impossible to put down, House Rules will stand beside Running With Scissors and The Glass Castle as a memoir that cracks open the shell of a desperately dysfunctional family with impressive grace and humour. Rachel Sontag grew up the daughter of a well-liked doctor in an upper middle class suburb of Chicago. The view from outsi A compelling, at times horrifying work that is impossible to put down, House Rules will stand beside Running With Scissors and The Glass Castle as a memoir that cracks open the shell of a desperately dysfunctional family with impressive grace and humour. Rachel Sontag grew up the daughter of a well-liked doctor in an upper middle class suburb of Chicago. The view from outside couldn’t have been more perfect. But within the walls of the family home, Rachel’s life was controlled and indeed terrorized by her father’s serious depression. In prose that is both precise and rich, Rachel’s childhood experience unfolds in a chronological recounting that shows how her father became more and more disturbed as Rachel grew up. A visceral and wrenching exploration of the impact of a damaged psyche on those nearest to him, House Rules will keep you reading even when you most wish you could look away. In the middle of the night, Dad sent Mom to wake me. In my pajamas, I sat across from them in the living room. I was sure Grandma had died and I remember deciding to stay strong when Dad told me. “What did you say to her?” he asked. His elbows rested in his lap. “What do you mean?” “You spent a good half hour alone in that hospital room. What did you talk about?” “I don’t know, Dad” “What do you mean, you don’t know? You know. You know exactly what you talked to her about.” “You talked about me, Rachel.” “No. I didn’t.” “To my own mother?” . . . . I wondered how he’d been with Mom, how she’d missed the signs. He couldn’t have just turned crazy all of a sudden. I wondered if his own father had infected him with anger. But mostly, I wanted to know what he saw in me that caused him to break up inside. Was it in my being born or in my growing up? --from House Rules

30 review for House Rules

  1. 4 out of 5

    Madeleine

    I have a tendency to annotate, underline and lovingly deface my reading material. I promised myself that I'd go easy on this one, settling for the less-permanently-marring dog-ear method when something really jumped out at me; otherwise, I'd be leaving a trail of graffiti that would render this memoir unreadable should I want to revisit it in the future. My reserve lasted for 21 pages: The line "I always wondered what gave Dad the right to decide this maid or that driver was the person he assume I have a tendency to annotate, underline and lovingly deface my reading material. I promised myself that I'd go easy on this one, settling for the less-permanently-marring dog-ear method when something really jumped out at me; otherwise, I'd be leaving a trail of graffiti that would render this memoir unreadable should I want to revisit it in the future. My reserve lasted for 21 pages: The line "I always wondered what gave Dad the right to decide this maid or that driver was the person he assumed them to be," after I recovered from the way it struck every vulnerable nerve I have, was the moment I realized that this was going to be an excruciatingly familiar story. I haven't spoken to my parents in almost three years. Three years without my mother's toxic narcissism and my father's inflexible, controlling approach to life. Three years without pretending everything's okay and smiling through the outbursts that exposed a rage not even in the same universe as being proportional to the instigation. Three years without holidays turning into both battlegrounds and showcases of superficiality in equal measures (let me tell you about the Thanksgiving that my now-husband and I were kicked out of my parents' house after asking for help in paying for our wedding). Three years without my "bleeding-heart liberal" perspective trivialized or my feelings negated. In other words, these have been three of the most peaceful, enjoyable years I've ever known. I finally feel like I'm coming into my own as an adult because there is no one telling me how wrong I am and making me feel like a disobedient child every step of the way. This is Rachel Sontag's story, of course, but I superimposed so much of my own on hers that it was impossible to separate the two by the time I arrived at the last page. Rachel's journey and mine didn't align precisely and perfectly, of course, but hers was the first that made me feel like someone, somewhere, gets it -- hence this memoir reading like an understanding hug (which is still just as true as it is corny). Because the bare necessities aren't enough for a child. Having things like a home and a full belly and both parents doesn't automatically equate to feeling swaddled in safety and security and love, as those necessary abstracts are not found in objects but in gestures. Attempting to manipulate a child into some predetermined parental ideal without showing any regard for her worth as an individual with her own wishes and aspirations and potential by belittling and bullying her does not make her stronger: It makes her scared and instills in her a smattering of issues that are going to make the ordinary act of living a daily victory (and some therapist a little richer). There are three main differences between Rachel's story and mine: She had some early inkling that things were not normal about her family dynamic, that adhering to a stringent set of rules was not the glue keeping most families together and that most daughters didn't live like even the slightest deviation from a father's ironclad commandments would set the end of the world in motion, whereas I hero-worshipped my father until some time after college; she had extended family present in her life to occasionally rescue her and call her father out on his impossible expectations or reconstructed realities, whereas my paternal family is far-flung and was never that involved with my nuclear family during the few years they lived nearby (and, besides, my father was always not speaking to at least one of his siblings at any given time) -- and I don't even know my maternal family, as the last contact I had with them was in the mid-'90s; and her mother was weak-willed, another target at the mercy of a tyrannical force (though she at least demonstrated the ability to say "I'm sorry," a phrase I've never heard my own mother deign to offer), whereas mine lives like people are supporting characters in her movie and only seemed interested in presenting a united front with my father when it offered an opportunity for tag-teaming a child into psychologically battered submission. The dissimilarities of our childhoods were why I was able to tear through this memoir in less than 24 hours without being reduced to a wobbling puddle of tears and self-pity. They kept reminding me that, for as much as I hate my own parents, at least my mother never physically weighed me down so she could wallop me or my father never woke me up at ungodly-o'-clock in the morning to accuse me of slowly killing my sickly grandmother by unloading some imaginary bitterness on her. But, as Infinite Jest had taught me, there is a crucial difference between identifying and comparing, and I did keep that in mind while reading this. Because while some kids would kill for Rachel's Cancun vacations and European excursions, all she wanted was to "feel like somebody's child." She was lonely and alone, which she realized at 15. I got caught up in the illusion of normalcy (with a healthy serving of denial on the side) for so long that it took some caustic blow-outs and nasty e-mails for Adult Me to finally see my parents for what they are rather than what I wished them to be and decide that I was better off without that poison in my life. And even though Rachel and I didn't travel the same path, different issues manifested in similar ways. Her mother's problem can be distilled down to her vision of marriage being a way to fill the void her own lack of a paternal figure had left in her, effectively seeking a father in a husband, a childhood in her own children and the dad for her daughters that she never had, regardless of the emotional cost. Rachel considers the possibility that neither of her parents had fully matured before their forays into marriage and parenthood, which I've often thought about my own mother and father, who were married at 19 and 22, respectively. And I distinctly recall a childhood trip to Disney where my father told my brother and me that "this is like a second childhood for your mother, since she never got to do things like this" -- a comment that didn't seem terribly significant until many, many years later when I realized that my mother got married as an escape and finally accepted that having children would encourage my father to both stay with her and leave the place she was trying to flee. Like Rachel, my parents didn't physically abuse me (I was spanked once, which made my ass involuntarily clench every time someone raised their voice for the next decade; Rachel's mother hit her a few times but that was just.... sad more than anything else) but they also never said they were proud of me, or supported my decisions or made me feel like I was anything other than another possession for them to exert control over. The difference between abuse and neglect (and how the two are equally as damaging in their own ways) are explored subtly in this book until Rachel mentions a foster-care seminar she attended where the two extremes' end results were outright explained: "Neglected children feel invisible, as if their presence had no bearing on anyone or anything. Abused children feel all too visible, as if they were the center of everyone's world, because they had been the center of someone's world, the recipients of an abnormal amount of attention." While Rachel clearly identifies with the abused-child personality, being her father's primary target (her younger sister, however, embodies much of the neglected child's symptoms), I feel it both ways. And that led me to a realization that a few years of unassisted but diligent psychological diggings hadn't yet unearthed: That I feel verbally abused but emotionally neglected. Rachel agonizes over whether a complete stranger she passes on a bus will be offended when she opts to sit next to another stranger, while I often feel the same way but then counter my inner turmoil with ".... but who am I to think that I matter enough to be more than a forgotten blip on a perfect stranger's radar?" Even after all the parental destruction, what hit me hardest was the efforts Rachel and her sister have made to repair their relationship, as they know they are the other's most understanding source of comfort. The last time my little brother and I talked, we had agreed that we both feel like lonely planets (I can't remember which one of us invoked the comparison but it was something we both felt illustrated the point well): There's nothing for us to orbit but we've picked up satellites in the form of friends and significant others along the way that make the loneliness easier to bear and, occasionally, we find ourselves in tandem trajectories along our self-propelled paths. It's still hard for me to see him as anything other than either the competitor my mother set him up to be (nothing like telling your kids which one was "better" that day and playing favorites to feed into sibling rivalry, eh?) or my failure as a big sister to shield him from the damage I didn't even see 'til years later, but his girlfriend is turning out to be just as good to him as she is for us. She's the sister I always wanted and the good-hearted guidance he's always needed, as well as the outside observer who made me realize that I miss the hell out of the only person who truly understands how fucked up it was growing up in the conditions we did. The little glimpses of Rachel and her sister slowly rebuilding their bond made me just as certain that this is something my brother and I can handle as it did reinforce my determination to never, ever have children because I fear ruining a child even more than I fear being attacked by spiders in the shower (which is to say, psychotically so). Quite honestly, I am tired of writing this "review" and am a little more than emotionally wrung out from it -- no one's fault but my own, yes, but true nonetheless. I'll end this with the passage that I could have written myself but am so grateful that I didn't have to: "There were simple things I needed to learn. Things that seemed to be common sense for most of my friends.... I didn't know how to tell the truth. I'd become so accustomed to arranging my words around what I was supposed to say, or what I thought most people wanted to hear, that basic communications were almost impossible for me. Saying "no" when I didn't want to do something, admitting to my own mistakes, asking for the things I wanted." (ETA: I think I'll give this one a more traditional review in the future -- Rachel's story deserves more attention than I gave it here -- but I had to purge myself of all the old feelings this book brought to the surface first.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Moira Russell

    A very good book, but no way would I compare it with Running with Scissors; it's far more hypnotic and harrowing, less jokey. Rachel Sontag's father never physically or sexually abused her, her sister or her mother; instead he went after them verbally with a ritual savagery night after night, while playing the part of a selfless doctor, devoutly religious man, and excellent father (trips to Europe and Cancun, wilderness and summer camps, &c &c) in the day. In effect and nearly in fact he A very good book, but no way would I compare it with Running with Scissors; it's far more hypnotic and harrowing, less jokey. Rachel Sontag's father never physically or sexually abused her, her sister or her mother; instead he went after them verbally with a ritual savagery night after night, while playing the part of a selfless doctor, devoutly religious man, and excellent father (trips to Europe and Cancun, wilderness and summer camps, &c &c) in the day. In effect and nearly in fact he imprisoned them, and this memoir is the story of Rachel's slow jailbreak out. Like all memoirs of this type, it trails off a little vaguely and the second half about young adulthood is nowhere near as mesmerizing as the first half detailing Rachel's childhood, but her writing has a quiet, vivid power and the book isn't junked up with pop therapy cliches. And just in case you doubt Rachel's story or even think she might be exaggerating it a little, her father has put up a completely batshit website dedicated to "refuting" her book which instead horrifyingly confirms nearly everything she says. I have never seen anything like it in all my life. It's at sontaghouserules dot com. People react here http://thehairpin.com/2011/07/you-may... and here http://www.metafilter.com/109621/All-... There's also a very interesting interview with her on UTU (despite a rather dickish host): Part 1, Part 2 What interested me was she said she got letters from people she didn't know, or hadn't seen in 20-25 years, who wrote to her agent saying her father had treated them the same way: family friends, family members, coworkers. My personal theory is that in this type of situation people go on about oh, we had no idea, such a professional, such a happy family, blahblah, nobody knew. Which is bullshit. Nobody had a clue about Ted Bundy! No, his girlfriend for one thing knew he disappeared for days at a time, faked plaster casts, &c. Nobody had a clue about Jerry Sandusky! Bullshit, Paterno knew at least as far back as 1998 Sandusky had molested children. The abuser covers up and terrifies the people he's abusing into not just not telling, but not being able to tell themselves what's going on, and the people who do maybe kinda suss out what's going on just don't know what to do. (It amazes me she was sent to a group home for abused girls by a social worker and then she just....went back home after a couple of months apparently. It amazes me.)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tari

    This book was amazingly, brilliantly written and recounts a childhood consisting of cruelty and emotional abuse. It is a perfect illustration of the devastating yet subtle effects of abuse that is psychological but not physical, and that exists in a life of so-called privilege. It also speaks to the resilency and strength that exists in Rachel to find a way out and reclaim herself. This book is heartbreaking to read, but I couldn't put it down. Then again, I tend to love depressing memoirs.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lydia Presley

    Imagine you are a young teenage girl. Imagine you had just been in an accident through no fault of your own, or your mothers (the driver). Imagine you are standing outside of the car, speaking to the police, with your home just down the road, and your mother sends you to get your father. Your kidneys are bruised, you can feel the pain spreading through your stomach. Your father is a doctor, surely he can understand some of the shock and pain you are experiencing. Imagine you get your father - an Imagine you are a young teenage girl. Imagine you had just been in an accident through no fault of your own, or your mothers (the driver). Imagine you are standing outside of the car, speaking to the police, with your home just down the road, and your mother sends you to get your father. Your kidneys are bruised, you can feel the pain spreading through your stomach. Your father is a doctor, surely he can understand some of the shock and pain you are experiencing. Imagine you get your father - and find yourself in the position of being chastised, harshly, for leaving the scene of an accident. Now imagine being belittled, humiliated and made to apologize for something your mother had told you to go do. There was no excuse for Rachel, not in her father's eyes. She had broken one of his rules, and it was her action that she was, alone, responsible for. While reading House Rules by Rachel Sontag I found myself constantly comparing her story to the story of Jeanette Walls in The Glass Castle. While both Rachel and Jeannette had some of the same experiences (Both traveled extensively, Rachel on vacation, Jeannette out of necessity) those experiences were made completely different by the difference in wealth. Rachel never seemed to want for anything. She always had food, clothing a home and experiences most kids would love to have. Jeannette was often starving, without clothing or shoes and sometimes, without even a shelter over her head. But the biggest difference between the two were their fathers. Both fathers were abusive in their own fashion. Jeannette's father, despite it all, loved his daughters. It's apparent that Jeannette felt this, even when things were at their darkest. He was sick, yes. He was neglectful, yes. But there were moments of brightness where the love he felt were made very apparent. Rachel's father was not neglectful. He was abusive. There's no other word for it. Demeaning, belittling. Never physically abusive, but mentally horrifying. It's astonishing to me that Rachel was able to pull herself through the life he created in their home. But despite the sickness of Rachel's father, the real "monster" to me in this book was Rachel's mother. A typical victim of abuse, she could never manage to take herself and her daughters from her husband. And my heart breaks when I think of how she broke her daughters heart over and over again by filling it with false hope. This is one of those books I hate to rate with any type of star rating system. I didn't enjoy the book as I enjoyed something like Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Truth. I didn't hate reading the book or I wouldn't have finished it. I felt saddened and hopeful for Rachel at the same time, and the story is an incredibly interesting one. I read through it quickly, and the pace never stops. I'm sure I'll be talking about this book to friends in the future, so for that reason alone I'm giving it four stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I am not sure why I do this to myslef - I seem unable to stop reading books about the screwed up situations people grew up in. What is wrong with people that they treat their kids so strangely? Rachel's dad is cruel and abusive in the weirdest way. What he does seems loving and protective and were it maybe 10% of what it is, he would've been a loving dad. Instead he was a crazy bastard who treated one daughter with no respect at all whiel pretendign to really respect her, and competely ignored th I am not sure why I do this to myslef - I seem unable to stop reading books about the screwed up situations people grew up in. What is wrong with people that they treat their kids so strangely? Rachel's dad is cruel and abusive in the weirdest way. What he does seems loving and protective and were it maybe 10% of what it is, he would've been a loving dad. Instead he was a crazy bastard who treated one daughter with no respect at all whiel pretendign to really respect her, and competely ignored the other daughter. Rachel was accused of all sorts of things teenagers may possible be guilty of, but which she was not. and most of them, even if she were guilty, would not have been the end of the world. This story shows what abuse can really be all about. Steve Sontag never hit Rachel, never physically abused her, gave her a good education and foreign holidays - but also made her repeat that she was shit,the scum of the earth, worthless and that she hated herself. He abused her in such an awful way that i am amazed she survived at all. He is also funny and a doctor and on the outside, a great all round human being. Like so many abusers he never showed the puclic what was goin on behind closed doors. Inthis book, Rachel Sontag does. Its a brave book which seems to be about a 'lesser' abuse because no bones were broken or bodies hurt - but which shows what awful power adults can have over children. And how easily that can be abused. There is no lesser abuse.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kim Brittingham

    For anyone who's been on the receiving end of emotional abuse from a less-than-stable parent, House Rules is something of a comfort. It's a reminder that you're not the only one who understands that abuse doesn't always leave a child black-and-blue -- at least not in a physical sense. And for those of us who've decided life is better without a dysfunctional parent in it -- and without regrets -- Sontag's memoir reaffirms our choice. Sometimes, estrangement really is the healthiest thing. Equally For anyone who's been on the receiving end of emotional abuse from a less-than-stable parent, House Rules is something of a comfort. It's a reminder that you're not the only one who understands that abuse doesn't always leave a child black-and-blue -- at least not in a physical sense. And for those of us who've decided life is better without a dysfunctional parent in it -- and without regrets -- Sontag's memoir reaffirms our choice. Sometimes, estrangement really is the healthiest thing. Equally fascinating as the book itself is Sontag's father's response in the form of his personal web site at sontaghouserules dot com. Where Sontag's father hopes to convince the world that House Rules is a malevolent misrepresentation of life in an idyllic suburban home, his obsessive, irrational and paranoid catalog of Sontag's childhood letters, mementos and photographs only serves to reinforce (and keenly so) the portrait Sontag paints of her father.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jaime

    This memoir illustrates the emotional abuse the author suffered at the hands of her father. Steve Sontag was sick--that's obvious. He was the ultimate manipulator, playing mind games and challenging Rachel to bouts of emotional "chicken." What I found most bothersome, however, was her mother's uncanny ability to stand by and watch her husband inflict this mental abuse on her own daughter. Actually, I was disgusted by it. I also found Rachel's attitude toward the abuse unbelievable. Mostly, she s This memoir illustrates the emotional abuse the author suffered at the hands of her father. Steve Sontag was sick--that's obvious. He was the ultimate manipulator, playing mind games and challenging Rachel to bouts of emotional "chicken." What I found most bothersome, however, was her mother's uncanny ability to stand by and watch her husband inflict this mental abuse on her own daughter. Actually, I was disgusted by it. I also found Rachel's attitude toward the abuse unbelievable. Mostly, she stood by and humored her father when he was on one of his ridiculous tirades. Even as a young girl, Rachel held strong; she rarely cried and was able to easily (in her mind) remove herself far from the situation occurring right before her eyes. I feel bad that Rachel had to grow up in such a stern and rigid environment; however, I just couldn't get into this book or its characters. Half way through the book, I was already planning what I'd read next, and I was both happy and relieved when the book concluded.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I think I have lost count on how many times I have been in trouble with my parents. I used to think that I was judged unfairly and quickly began to complain about how unfair life was. That is why “House Rules” by Rachel Sontag caught my attention. The main character, Rachel has always been verbally and mentally abused her father. She would have turned to her mother but her mom always agrees with her dad because she says it’s an example she should set. Rachel is slowly growing up and learning how I think I have lost count on how many times I have been in trouble with my parents. I used to think that I was judged unfairly and quickly began to complain about how unfair life was. That is why “House Rules” by Rachel Sontag caught my attention. The main character, Rachel has always been verbally and mentally abused her father. She would have turned to her mother but her mom always agrees with her dad because she says it’s an example she should set. Rachel is slowly growing up and learning how to defend herself from her dad. This leads to more drama and finally she decides to leave with a social worker. Finally, she decides to come back and stay until college. Rachel is then forced by her father to take a particular major. Will she agree or will she for the last time have an argument with her family and leave? I absolutely love this book because it is so different and unique yet familiar to my own life’s story. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes drama because the whole story is based on drama.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kayla Joy

    I did not enjoy this book. I felt like I read, read, read and I got no where in the book. There was no main event in the book, I felt like the author continuously just restated everything she already thought and felt. The only reason I kept reading the book is because I thought that there would be some type of climax in the book at some point, although it did not. This is the first time I read a book and I got to the end and did not feel sad for having finished it, reading this book felt like a I did not enjoy this book. I felt like I read, read, read and I got no where in the book. There was no main event in the book, I felt like the author continuously just restated everything she already thought and felt. The only reason I kept reading the book is because I thought that there would be some type of climax in the book at some point, although it did not. This is the first time I read a book and I got to the end and did not feel sad for having finished it, reading this book felt like a huge waste of time. I've never finished a book and been like "wow that was a bad book".

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    ALA 2011 I can't believe that people have compared this memoir to Glass Castle. Sontag's father is a monster, but her writing style is whiny. It never seemed to me that Jeanette Walls was trying to make people feel sorry for her; she wasn't complaining about the way her family was--just describing it. The comparison to Running with Scissors is far more accurate.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bekki Fowell

    Slow & not as good as I was expecting, I feel bad in saying that because it is someone's autobiography, but I did not like this read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Evans

    Rachel is so brave. As someone who feels a compulsive need to tell my most painful stories but fears the consequences, I admire her courage to write this book so honestly yet compassionately. This book changed me, and I’m so glad it exists. Rachel is, without a doubt, a hero and inspiration for children everywhere who are trying to forgive their parents. This book has made me a more self-aware and kind person.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anne Ross

    Definitely a painful read--the cruelty was suffocating. The writing was magical, and the narrator's present-day perspective lent much to interpreting the events. Extremely well done!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rhonda Rae Baker

    WOW...this is a memoir that everyone should read! Deeply moving and psychologically charged...I can't say enough good things about this story. It's real and life is real, this memoir will open your eyes. Weather you've been abused, neglected, or wondered what was going on in another person's family when you just know something is wrong...this will enlighten you and encourage you to break away or even help make a difference. Be sure to read a copy of this memoir that has the P.S. included...you'l WOW...this is a memoir that everyone should read! Deeply moving and psychologically charged...I can't say enough good things about this story. It's real and life is real, this memoir will open your eyes. Weather you've been abused, neglected, or wondered what was going on in another person's family when you just know something is wrong...this will enlighten you and encourage you to break away or even help make a difference. Be sure to read a copy of this memoir that has the P.S. included...you'll want to read and read portions of the last half to make sure you've GOT it...absorbing everything that this young woman felt and forged through because she DID it...she broke free and is living her life as she chooses no matter what others think! I know, from first-hand experience, what it is to live in a family and home that felt like PRISON for 28 years. It deeply injured me and even worse damaged my children! This memoir was so incredibly written and right ON in description as well as emotion of what goes on in dysfunctional families. This memoir was so compelling that I simply could not put it down. As I read what happened within this family my own memories were surfacing...the deeper I traveled within the story, each page was read slower because I wanted to absorb the hope and encouragement another's life gave to me and for my children. I felt every emotional scar and identified with the abused and the neglected. Yes, a person that is neglected is totally invisible. A person that is abused is too visible. There is no way for anyone to come out of circumstances like this and be unmarked...but there IS hope. Break yourself FREE...move forward and live your life for yourself! You have no one to answer to but yourself and you are not anyone else's puppet. Live your life full of integrity and honesty...never allow yourself to be manipulated by another person. The scars run deep and the identification a person feels with the one that abused you or neglected you may affect you for some time but there is liberty and victory to anyone that learns to be true to themselves. I will be sharing this memoir with my children, I will re-read it again, my husband will learn from this, others that I know will benefit from this story, and we all can grow and learn together that we are valuable as well as important but more of importance is that we live our lives according to our own heart. We are never obligated to live in such a way that others will accept us. We are who we are and who we are meant to be and no other person has any right to expect us to act one way or another. If you've felt trapped by your own past and want some insight as to how you can free yourself from those chains...read this memoir. You'll want to pass it along as I and you will find hope in breaking our of your cocoon and fly as the butterfly you were created to be. It won't be easy, as reading this memoir won't be easy...but your life could be changed for the better. You may carry the scars deep within but they will become your stronger parts and you can learn to be happy. There are not enough words to say about this book. Rachel Sontag is my hero...she has encouraged me and I know now that I must write my story. I must get it out there in print. I must share this story so other members of my family can get their story out. My youngest daughter is my hero...she broke us all out...she was not afraid to tell the truth. Something that some of us had no idea was going on...yet something that others knew and couldn't step forward with because they didn't know how to face the realities of our prison! The road has been extremely difficult and I've often wondered if some of us weren't going to make it but now I know that we will...we all will. I have hope, I have reason to believe that no matter what circumstance or situation you've been in, you CAN overcome. You do not have to live your life feeling like there are chains that bind you. You can break free of this weight...WOW. I know, from my own life that fantasies can and do come true...if you're stuck and don't know what to do, then maybe this book will give you the insight necessary to make that change and move forward...you can do it...you are special and you are your own person!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Juliette

    I was going to give this memoir 2 1/2 stars, but then I started thinking about Catcher in the Rye and it bumped my rating up another half star. "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores m I was going to give this memoir 2 1/2 stars, but then I started thinking about Catcher in the Rye and it bumped my rating up another half star. "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They're quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father." This is Holden Caulfield's first paragraph in Catcher in the Rye , and it really sums up what I think about Rachel Sontag's memoir. She grew up in a nice suburban home outside Chicago, and her dad was really controlling. He didn't beat her, or molest her, or deprive her of food/shelter/clothing/college/travel. He was a control freak and verbally abused her. Her mom did physically abuse her a few times, which seems to oddly go unmentioned in a lot of other reviews of this book. Her mom also seems to be quite codependent. Rachel Sontag's dad did have a virtual hemorrage, and created a bizarre rebuttal website that includes pie charts about how much information he has from Rachel, odd bar graphs and time lines including how many nice vacations they took, and a lot of "deal with it!" type sentiments. What's really bizarre is that if you try to go to Rachel Sontag's website, it takes you automatically to her dad's website (SontagHouseRules) instead. I noticed that even the link from Harper Collins Publishing takes you to his website, which leads me to believe there was some sort of legal action instigated by her parents as part of a settlement to avoid a defamation/libel suit? If not, then it means Rachel (or Rachel and her dad?) created the site. Anyway, with all the he said/she said aside, this memoir is sort of slow and strange, and it seems like it all could have been avoided if Sontag's parents would just apologize for calling her worthless and wishing she had never been born. I'd say skip this one, unless Rachel Sontag writes a follow-up to this memoir. Also worth noting, she lists that she has an MFA in creative writing in her author bio, which made me suspect her memory in the writing of this memoir. Overall, I think most people, including Holden Caulfield, would find this book to be a a bore.

  16. 5 out of 5

    M

    Wow is this a trip. Sontag describes in painstaking - literally - detail the horrors she grew up with under the thumb of a controlling, abusive father who, while he never hit her, hurt her in far deeper ways, and her mother who refuses to take a stand. This read like a darker Glass Castle; at that, it read like a novel and I was deeply moved by the insight Sontag reaches as she gets through her nightmare. As she paints a picture of a truly sick father, I kept wondering about Rachel's teachers, ne Wow is this a trip. Sontag describes in painstaking - literally - detail the horrors she grew up with under the thumb of a controlling, abusive father who, while he never hit her, hurt her in far deeper ways, and her mother who refuses to take a stand. This read like a darker Glass Castle; at that, it read like a novel and I was deeply moved by the insight Sontag reaches as she gets through her nightmare. As she paints a picture of a truly sick father, I kept wondering about Rachel's teachers, neighbors, friends' parents- where were they?? And yet I felt all the more troubled thinking of how many Rachel Sontags I personally teach, either not knowing or even hearing about her home life and sighing a deep sigh and cutting her more slack on her poor essays and then moving on with my life. This was so beautifully written and just heart breaking, all the more given Sontag's amazing maturity. I did wonder how much of her retroactive telling was affected by her later insight as well as imperfect memory/adolescent drama, but for the most part this was gripping. Sontag describes the issues people who were abused encounter - if they were neglected, they proceed to always feel invisible, whereas abused children experience severe narcissism in thinking that people focus on them much more than they actually do. I have seen this for myself and it was fascinating to see it in her personal account. I am still on the fence about this whole gut spilling phenomenon- Sontag herself says she could not live without sharing this, but I wonder why that is? On the one hand it is not only cathartic but i imagine a real gift to people who suffered similarly, but at the same time it is bothersome as well, that I was so privy to such intimate and painful stories. It made it hard to rate this, as well, much in the way that when my students write personal essays I am flummoxed as to how to mark poorly written yet very touching stories. It feels cheap somehow. All that aside - I strongly recommend this book. For all that Sontag gets preachy and is the hero of her own story, it is a powerful one and while disturbing, worthwhile.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily Crow

    Tolstoy famously said (paraphrasing) that happy families are all alike, but each unhappy family is miserable in their own unique way. I think if he'd been alive during the glut of sucky childhood memoirs, he might have changed his mind about that. In this one, Sontag describes the purgatory of living with a control freak father whose strict "house rules" and bizarre cross examinations made her childhood hellish and weird. But she also got to go on fantastic trips to places like Paris and Cancun Tolstoy famously said (paraphrasing) that happy families are all alike, but each unhappy family is miserable in their own unique way. I think if he'd been alive during the glut of sucky childhood memoirs, he might have changed his mind about that. In this one, Sontag describes the purgatory of living with a control freak father whose strict "house rules" and bizarre cross examinations made her childhood hellish and weird. But she also got to go on fantastic trips to places like Paris and Cancun and had loads of upper middle class privileges. Ultimately, this memoir bogged down into the great pit of "meh" for me. I think the problem isn't that it's bad, per se, but that nothing stood out as being especially good. The writing was adequate, nothing more. There wasn't much in the way of self-reflection or attempts to make her experiences meaningful to others. The best of these books make the reader feel a connection, so that by understanding the author a bit better, they can apply that same process to their own lives. Or they feel less alone, that they have temporarily joined in with a kindred spirit, and if that person could get through it and come out better, anyone can. Or maybe they can appreciate the wit and humor or the flow or the writing. Or, worst case scenario, the author's life was just so lurid and horrific that it's impossible not to be fascinated. House Rules did not elicit any of those responses from me. On the contrary, I started to get impatient with the author. Did she write that book as an attempt to justify her continued estrangement from her father? Or did she decide, "These books are popular and my childhood pretty much sucked, maybe I should cash in?" By the end, the impression I got was a mix of the two. Especially as I very recently read Jewel's memoir Never Broken, which took many of the same elements--unhappy childhood, unstable home life, period of homelessness, current estrangement from a parent--and turned it into a hopeful story of healing and forgiveness. And Jewel's a better writer, too.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cleo Bannister

    This memoir is written in a way which never seems to exaggerate the psychological abuse Rachel suffered at the hands of her father but at the same time leaves the reader in no doubt about how damaging this was. Of course this kind of abuse is the hardest to detect, the hardest to reason with and the hardest to do anything about. Steve Sontag played his part in public (mostly) and appeared to be a hard-working, funny, Jewish doctor but behind closed doors, and often in public places his sheer unr This memoir is written in a way which never seems to exaggerate the psychological abuse Rachel suffered at the hands of her father but at the same time leaves the reader in no doubt about how damaging this was. Of course this kind of abuse is the hardest to detect, the hardest to reason with and the hardest to do anything about. Steve Sontag played his part in public (mostly) and appeared to be a hard-working, funny, Jewish doctor but behind closed doors, and often in public places his sheer unreasonableness, the lectures dressed up as life lessons endlessly repeated and the damaging way he viewed her every action continued until Rachel was at breaking point . I say was, because ultimately this is a positive book, Rachel had the strength of character to live her life and this book is her story of how she did so. Families are complicated, no two operate in the same way and there is often a cast of many, whether that cast is separated by distance or emotions all have a part to play. Rachel tells the story of her ‘monster’ of a father but also the story of her ineffective mother and her ‘invisible’ sister. A story where all the normal relationships were turned on their heads as these three tried in their own way to avoid being the one who Steve Sontag noticed, as being noticed was never good in this household. A good book to read for those who want an insight on how a certain combination of parents can be catastrophic and that psychological abuse is no less damaging for the lack of broken bones.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sally Monem

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. House Rules by Rachel Sontag is an autobiography of her life and childhood struggle with her unique family situation. Rachel grew up with a very controlling father, who created a very structured lifestyle for Rachel and her sister, Jenny. Rachel's father's life was filled with rules and ways to do everything, which he dragged his daughters and his helpless wife into. The story of Rachel's life seemed to be a tale of a girl who struggled to escape her father and see if she could make it on her ow House Rules by Rachel Sontag is an autobiography of her life and childhood struggle with her unique family situation. Rachel grew up with a very controlling father, who created a very structured lifestyle for Rachel and her sister, Jenny. Rachel's father's life was filled with rules and ways to do everything, which he dragged his daughters and his helpless wife into. The story of Rachel's life seemed to be a tale of a girl who struggled to escape her father and see if she could make it on her own without his crazy lifestyle. I personally really enjoyed reading this novel because I never thought so many rules could exist. How could a child grow up with a little rules that accompanies everything? Rachel and Jenny grew up making mistakes that they didn't even know existed, which they were then punished for. My favorite aspect of Rachel's story was how both her and her sister had found such courage to escape their fathers clutches. I truly felt the fear they both experienced, and I just was rooting for them to succeed. The ending of the novel, for me, wasn't very satisfying due to the fact that we never truly understand what was wrong with her father. I feel as the reader, I would think he had a severe case of OCD, but I would really like to know what actually was wrong. I also felt that Rachel would never truly have closure until she knew what happened. All in all, I would greatly recommend this book because it really is an unbelievable story.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Neha

    House Rules by Rachel Sontag, autobiography. This memoir is about a young girl who has issues with her father. At times she considers him and her hero; however, other times she considers him as her enemy. The book shows you the life of Rachel and how her father is constantly taking over it by making her do activities she does not want to do, or in other words, taking over her life. He would blame her for the smallest things, such as, losing a map, or bringing a barbie doll on vacation, or wearin House Rules by Rachel Sontag, autobiography. This memoir is about a young girl who has issues with her father. At times she considers him and her hero; however, other times she considers him as her enemy. The book shows you the life of Rachel and how her father is constantly taking over it by making her do activities she does not want to do, or in other words, taking over her life. He would blame her for the smallest things, such as, losing a map, or bringing a barbie doll on vacation, or wearing lipstick to school, or borrowing her mom's clothes. Her father also randomly calls her down in the middle of the night to taunt her about small mistakes she's made, and even makes her write apology letters to him. Rachel has such a hard time dealing with her dad, and her mom can't even save her from him. The memoir shows her struggles and how she finally escapes from his control. This novel was really good; however, I felt like it dragged on at some parts. The way the author described her relationship with her dad was so vivid that I could imagine it in my own head. I highly recommend this book to people of all ages!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I was totally sucked in to the this book from page one. This was an extremely frustrating story of a girl who lives within the super controlling and manipulative world of her father. The emotional abuse that she suffered because of him is outrageous. This book chronicled her childhood, teenage yeras, and college years - and every page was just as hard to read as the last. I was proud of her for not letting herself get trampled down by him. It took me quite a bit of the book to realize why she was I was totally sucked in to the this book from page one. This was an extremely frustrating story of a girl who lives within the super controlling and manipulative world of her father. The emotional abuse that she suffered because of him is outrageous. This book chronicled her childhood, teenage yeras, and college years - and every page was just as hard to read as the last. I was proud of her for not letting herself get trampled down by him. It took me quite a bit of the book to realize why she was so angry at her mom, sometimes moreso than her dad. But then I realized it was because her mom just gave up, gave in, and never made an attempt to keep her children safe. The whole situation was truly scary, especially thinking that I may very likely have students someday who live in the same controlled world that Rachel did. One other reason that it was scary is that I could see parts of Zach in the crazy, controlling, manipulative dad. Eesh. I'm glad I got out of that situation and into my current completely non-controlling relationship. Holy moly. Anyway, this book was very, very good.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mata

    An interesting memoir, written by a woman who grew up psychologically abused by her father who was obsessed with her and raising her to be perfect. Hard to read at times, at other times I just couldn’t put it down. She’s a gifted writer and, maybe thanks to lots of therapy, has a clear insight on herself and her issues. We did go through some things and periods of her life so quickly though, dad was written a little to one-dimensional, and in the end you got the impression she was just trying to An interesting memoir, written by a woman who grew up psychologically abused by her father who was obsessed with her and raising her to be perfect. Hard to read at times, at other times I just couldn’t put it down. She’s a gifted writer and, maybe thanks to lots of therapy, has a clear insight on herself and her issues. We did go through some things and periods of her life so quickly though, dad was written a little to one-dimensional, and in the end you got the impression she was just trying to wrap it all up; hence 3 stars. As you are reading it, you wonder why more family and friends and authority figures don’t intervene. It isn’t until the end of the book, when she goes back to get their impressions, that you find out that her parents had crafted a very different image and story for outsiders. It would have been interesting to read more about that, as well as on her neglected sister. I definitely think this would be a good book foe educators and people in social services.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This was a book I couldn't put down. It's a disturbing true story of a family where the dad is a tyrant. The mom and 2 daughters never know when or what will set him off. He tries to teach "lessons" to them but with severe, unreasonable discipline. He treats the mother as one of the children, and her weakness is that she goes along with it and enables him. She will not stand up for her children or herself. He cannot let them succeed and sets them against each other with his manipulations. His be This was a book I couldn't put down. It's a disturbing true story of a family where the dad is a tyrant. The mom and 2 daughters never know when or what will set him off. He tries to teach "lessons" to them but with severe, unreasonable discipline. He treats the mother as one of the children, and her weakness is that she goes along with it and enables him. She will not stand up for her children or herself. He cannot let them succeed and sets them against each other with his manipulations. His behaviors are sick, demeaning to all of them and controlling. Rachel searches for a way to survive and shares her anger, her desparation, and her attempts to reach out again and again before finally moving on to try to start her own life. He is a physician from the Northshore-close to home, in more ways than distance.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marisa

    I admit I had high expectations when I cracked this book open because Rachel is a childhood friend of mine. I learned about the book before it was published because her lawyer called me to explain that I had a miniscule role in the story and they were verifying that she was actually writing non-fiction. Her writing did not disappoint. She took an incredibly compelling story and told it beautifully. It's intense and moving and relatable.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    mehh. Certainly did not live up to the hype of being like Glass Palace and Running with Scissors. Sure the family was f*@ked up and the dad was a super whack job but the story read like a court case as to why this girl could justify never talking to her dad again. Glass Palace and Running with Scissors were WAY better written– they had you laughing one second and crying the next– where as this one i felt that i couldn’t care less either way.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeannie

    Riveting memoir of growing up with an asshole for a father and a mother who cared more for the fathers feelings than her own children. It was so sad to read about Rachel's childhood but inspiring to know she survived it to come out a better person. I found myself mad as hell half the time and cheering her on the rest. Excellent memoir, I highly recommend this one!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Painful at times to read, but complex and addictive in its grotesquely fascinating portrait of a narcissistic parent. I couldn't put it down and read the book in one day. Raw and real, with anger but also some understanding, we come to know the different aspects of her deeply dysfunctional family, and how it shaped her as a person.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rebs

    Personally, I don't think this was strong enough for a book. A long article, sure. But not a book, especially since it missed a lot of the introspection that you see in the books of, say, Augusten Burroughs, who also writes about his fucked-up childhood.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Iva

    Grew up in Evanston--expose of her family. Interesting, compelling, but made me uncomfortable.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I related with her it broke my heart too. I liked the added essays at the end.

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