Monday, March 22, 2010

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 his town is rocked by a terrible murder and, for a change, the police come to Jacob with questions. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger's — not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, flat affect — can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob and his family, who only want to fit in, feel the spotlight shining directly on them and over this small family the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacobcommit murder? (synopsis from book cover)

House Rules is the kind of book I usually avoid: overflowing with emotion and real-life drama.  Add the continual hopping between five different narrators, and I was guaranteed not to like this book.  Wrong!  I'm straining the thesaurus to find words to describe it:  amazing, awesome, ashtonishing, moving, wonderful, shocking, overwhelming...

Chapters alternate between Emma Hunt, her two sons - Jacob and Theo, the police detective trying to solve a murder, and Jacob's defense attorney.  Seeing the story from fluctuating viewpoints allows the reader to get inside the events, to experience them more realisitcally than would be possible if everything was interpretted by one character.

The most fascinating character, of course, is Jacob, an 18-year-old with high-functioning Asperger's.  Autism makes him very literal - he doesn't use or understand sarcasm, idioms or body language.  Since these are all things we decipher without thought, it adds a new dimension to witness events through his eyes.

Getting inside Theo's and Emma's heads is also fascinating - the "horse's mouth" viewpoint (if I may mangle a cliche) of life with an autistic family member.  The sacrifices, the daily drama, the constant stress and fear seen first-person are much more effective than 3rd person description.

Rich (the detective) and Oliver (the attorney) add the outlook that most readers are familiar with - an outsider's view of a condition they don't understand and their attempts to mold Jacob's behavior into a more familiar pattern.

Perhaps this book has taught me a lesson about judging a book by it's genre.   It undeniably taught me a lesson about juding people by my own standards. 

This book is my entry in the Take-Another-Chance Challenge - Challenge 5: Title Word Count. 


  1. I am loving this book (in progress). I am alternating between the library print version (due tomorrow...LOL and the audio version library copy dues in about 10 days.

    thanks 4 no spoilers and glad u liked it!

  2. I utterly agree with your reasons for why multiple character perspectives enhance a reading experience, rather than making it cluttered and confusing. I'm big into character development - and the more we know of and through a character, the more interesting the plot can be. Jumping around does make a lot of readers dizzy - but given a chance, the technique flows nicely and isn't even noticeable. I haven't read this book - only My Sister's Keeper. It seems she follows the same method of writing in every book. As long as she does it well each time, I see nothing wrong with that.

  3. I may have to check this out, too. Although, I have a stack of non-fiction books about as high as I am that I need to read. I really detest non-fiction books. :( What's a girl to do when her hubby keeps buying them for her? Although, I am not really sure what his motives are, yet. Anyway... About a month ago we watched a movie about a man with AS called Adam, I also found it eye opening.

  4. Dave & Tami..I owe you and Jodi Picoult a big thanks. When I saw the book review, it brought me to your Challenge. I am also an avid reader. I haven't read House Rules, but intend to. Picoult is a favorite of mine. She consistently writes stories with characters who intrigue me, captivate me, challenge the beliefs I have about myself, human nature and the world in general. Her stories are fresh and non-predictable. I would highly recommend Thirteen Minutes, and The Pact as well. I look forward to reading many more of hers as well as finding many more authors I enjoy through the Take another Chance Challenge .
    Thank You. Happy Reading. :)

  5. I've heard nothing but raves about this book so far. I have enjoyed previous Picoult books but have kind of slacked off on reading her but this one seems to be one of her better ones.