This is a review of the book Ada’s Rules, by Alice Randall. The novel focuses on Ada Howard, a middle-aged preacher’s wife in the American south, who is invited to a college reunion and uses that as the catalyst for a weight-loss campaign.
This is a journey of self-discovery more than anything. Ada fears that her husband is having an affair, and the promise of seeing an old flame at the reunion has her considering doing the same for the first time. In the twelve months that the book covers, she learns much about herself, her friends, her family and her husband, and comes out at the end a much happier woman.
I wasn’t able to relate to all of Ada’s journey. For one thing, I’m one of the few Western women who has never gone on a weight-loss binge, but then again I have a lot of friends who have so it wasn’t wholly foreign. For another, her weight was always counted in pounds. For someone who grew up on metric, I was forever having to translate her weight into kilograms in my head so I had some idea of what her progress was. These aren’t terminal problems by any means, but they did diminish my enjoyment of the book somewhat.
The other thing that was new to me, though I was happy to learn, was the aspects of African American culture that featured so heavily in the narrative. The group of women who lunched in white-owned restaurants once a month to prove to themselves (and others) that it was acceptable for them to do so was an eye-opener for me, and it reminded me that many of these battles are far from over, even fifty years after the civil rights movement. I also wasn’t aware – and this is key to the diet theme – that there is a strong “big is beautiful” belief about the female form, and that many women choose to be larger-figured because it affords them more respect and self-belief.
The book was structured well, too. Each of the chapters is titled by one of the “rules” Ada sticks with in her journey, such as “Don’t keep doing what you’ve always been doing”, “Manage portion sizes”, or “Create your own spa day”, all of which correspond to that part of her journey. Then at the end there is a chapter called “How to use my, Ada Howard’s, novel as a diet book”, which I thought was an innovative way of tying the narrative with a greater objective. As a book, it fits itself well – which I suppose is appropriate given the theme.
Ada’s Rules is an enjoyable, easy read which handles some very sensitive issues with grace and tact. It’s easy to pick up and hard to put down, and leaves the reader feeling satisfied – and (for me at least) also that they’ve learned something. Overall, it’s a well written insight into southern America and into the mind of an intelligent yet somewhat insecure heroine. I believe it’s well worth looking at.