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House Rules

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  2,283 ratings  ·  253 reviews
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
Hardcover, 261 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Bond Street Books (first published January 1st 2008)
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3.68  · 
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 ·  2,283 ratings  ·  253 reviews

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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 ...more
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 ...more
Jan 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Lydia Presley
Dec 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs, non-fiction
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 ...more
Mar 23, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kim Brittingham
May 04, 2011 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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 ...more
Jun 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Kayla Joy
Jun 28, 2010 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Mar 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
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.
Bekki Fowell
Aug 06, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
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.
Hannah Evans
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Anne Ross
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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!
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.'l ...more
Feb 08, 2015 rated it liked it
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 ...more
May 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Cleopatra  Pullen
Jan 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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 ...more
Sally Monem
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 30, 2012 added it
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 ...more
Oct 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 27, 2010 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Feb 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
May 12, 2010 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Jackie by: Catherine
Shelves: read-in-2010
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.
Sep 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own
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!
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Apr 15, 2011 rated it did not like it
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.
May 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Grew up in Evanston--expose of her family. Interesting, compelling, but made me uncomfortable.
Nov 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I related with her it broke my heart too. I liked the added essays at the end.
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Rachel Sontag was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois. She received her MFA in creative writing from The New School. She lives in New York City. This is her first book.
“A void in my chest was beginning to fill with anger. Quiet, defeated anger that guaranteed me the right to my hurt, that believed no one could possibly understand that hurt.” 514 likes
“I was lonely. I felt it deeply and permanently, that this state of being on my own might never disappear. But I welcomed the lonliness, which had everything to do with being anonymous. It's never lonliness that nibbles away at a person's insides, but not having room inside themselves to be comfortably alone.” 284 likes
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