House Rules by Jodi Picoult
Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject–in his case, forensic analysis. He’s always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do–and he’s usually right. But then one day his tutor is found dead, and the police come to question him. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger’s–not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, inappropriate affect–can look a heck of a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel — and suddenly, Jacob finds himself accused of murder. House Rules looks at what it means to be different in our society, how autism affects a family, and how our legal system works well for people who communicate a certain way–but lousy for those who don’t.
The first Jodi Picoult (pronounced Pee-koe, like the tea) book that I read was The Pact. Recently I read Change of Heart, My Sister’s Keeper and Keeping Faith. Jodi understands character development, proper pacing, the importance of rising action, and planting little “Easter Eggs” of information that excite when their significance is revealed to the reader, drawing them in right away. Jodi has an artistic way of taking the reader inside a handful of characters in one novel, each through first person narrative. Reading a “Jodi book” is like the feeling you get when the optometrist finally settles on your new prescription- you can see the world in a whole new and clear way. House Rules did almost all the above for me. Jodi’s writing style is precise and careful. She bravely writes about controversial topics with such grace and consideration.
When I read, I want to be challenged. I want to re-assess the way I view the world, so I embrace the controversy her books can spur.
In House Rules, we spend the majority of the story hearing from Emma Hunt and her two teenage sons Theo, and Jacob Hunt. We also hear from the Attorney, and the local detective. Jacob is 18 years old with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), a highly functioning form of autism. Most of us are vaguely familiar with autism through the popular movie Rain Man but our understanding as a society is very minimal. Before reading House Rules, I too, knew nothing about autism and AS. This book expanded my knowledge and opened my eyes to the misunderstood behavioral condition that is Asperger’s. This behavioral disease challenges the way justice is/will be served in our legal system, and how it’s limited scientific proof can affect judgments about right and wrong.
Theo, 15, has issues of his own. He often gets frustrated by how attentive his mother Emma is of older brother Jacob. Theo acts out to get attention or claim his place in the world by sneaking into houses and stealing things.
Emma has to cook all the food gluten and casein-free for Jacob, by color, by day. For example, on green food day, all the food served at the dinner meal must be green or Jacob will spin out of control. Dietary restrictions, rigorous vitamin supplementation and sensory quirks like Jacob’s hatred of the color orange, are just the tip of the iceberg for what it means to have AS.
Part of Jacob’s routine is to watch CrimeBusters everyday at 4:30pm sharp. He loves anything to do with forensic science and investigations. Unfortunately, the Hunt brothers end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and fall victim to unfortunate circumstances. I’ll leave it at that, as many of you have House Rules on your TBR lists!
I love “Jodi books” and always will. However, I felt a bit let down with this one, just by the ending. Maybe it’s the pressures of being one of the hottest modern writers of our time, being forced by her publisher to hammer out a book or more per calendar year? Regardless, I figured out the twist extremely early on, and felt like I was watching a rerun (because I knew how it would end). Despite the above, this book would be fabulous to discuss as a book club selection. The downside- the reader must wait unnecessarily long for the pay off at the end that left me annoyed. I know that part of Jodi’s MO is to leave the reader with their mouth agape and leave you wondering and pondering in your own mind. But I felt at a critical point in the book, pieces of vital information were left out until the absolute end, making the ending a bit too abrupt. I didn’t think it worked as well as it had in Change of Heart or My Sister’s Keeper. We, as the reader, need/want to know those morsels of detail. Let us in! It’s one thing to include twists and turns in a story, but it’s another to withhold vital information to the reader, almost like the story was redacted. It affected my sense of rising action and ultimate “pay off”, which left me a bit perplexed.
Despite my criticism, every single “Jodi book” I’ve read left me changed somehow. I love when books make a real impact on me, and I look forward to the thought-provoking discussions my book club babes and I will have over House Rules. I am disappointed Picoult won’t be touring around in my area this time around. I can’t wait to hear about her creative process and how she juggles her responsibilities as wife and mother of 4. Jodi will always have a cemented place on my list of top 5 favorite modern authors. I look forward to reading many more “Jodi books” in the future and hope I don’t figure out their twists as early next time 😉
Which authors are your favorites?
In progress: The Inheritance by Tom Savage
21 down, 31 to go!