Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult


They tell me I'm lucky to have a son who's so verbal, who is blisteringly intelligent, who can take apart the broken microwave and have it working again an hour later. They think there is no greater hell than having a son who is locked in his own world, unaware that there's a wider one to explore. But try having a son who is locked in his own world, and still wants to make a connection. A son who tries to be like everyone else, but truly doesn't know how.

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. For his mother, Emma, it's a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it's another indication of why nothing is normal because of Jacob. And over this small family the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?

Emotionally powerful from beginning to end, 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--and fails those who don't.


Bold and insightful, House Rules offers a very compelling look into the life and mind of an Asperger's teenager. Picoult does a tremendous job not only portraying the way Jacob functions but how it effects his family as well. His isolation from the world- not entirely by choice- comes up often, making the notion that these kids don't just want to be by themselves, they simply don't know how to be around others. From a mother's intense love to a brother's growing frustration, Asperger's is a family diagnosis rather than an individual one and this is played throughout.

Jacob is a very unique character- insightful in a striking way and brilliant, he is also set off by the things neurotypical people wouldn't pay even a first glance to. Despite knowing the world might not fall apart, his brain is programmed to believe it is and he reacts accordingly. Through these meltdowns, shown primarily in the mother's perspective, the reader can really see how hard these things are to witness as well as the aftermath of how Jacob behaves and what he has to do to calm down. His interpretation of the world is very different from what most people view and Picoult also does a remarkable job showing this as well as the hallmark flat affect these kids have.

Emma, Jacob's mom, is another stunning character who is a single mom of two who has put all of her time and energy into trying to keep her son from becoming the catatonic and nonfunctional boy he was at the initial autism diagnosis. She struggles to balance her two boys, her work, and her life in general and the chapters from her perspective really help drive home much of what happens when a family member has Asperger's. This is a character that will make you think, even sometimes question her actions, but the underlying motives are always visible.

Theo, the brother, is the odd man out and the way this manifests becomes increasingly heartbreaking. Chapters from his perspective continue to build the Asperger's world but show, a little more, how someone can be left out in light of a meltdown or because wanting to do something could cause a meltdown. His life is severely affected by Jacob's condition and this was an integral part to the overall story.

I admit, with this book, I did figure out most of what happened with the murder and whether Jacob was guilty or not despite the evidence pretty early on. Though it was disappointing, with this book particularly, the "Who Done It" was not nearly as important as the fact that Jacob simply cannot communicate effectively enough, particularly in court, to get across his side of the story. A deadpan voice and an unemotional expression will do nothing to back up his words to a jury unintentionally driven by emotions. Picoult has done, as usual, a fantastic job showing the underlying message and theme of her book and the murder was a back plot- the event that sparked the rest of the book and brought forth questions of our legal system.

In addition to the three characters above, the reader also gets to see into the minds of both the detective and the lawyer and those combined and changing points of view helped to give clues for the truth to be pieced together. Though I had figured it out, Picoult laid the framework for the reader to pull it together which ended up allowing me to focus even more on the Asperger's aspect of the plot. This is one that will stick with you, Jacob in particular. He will both bring laughter and heartache and he makes for a very memorable character.

Overall, Picoult has written another hit. Her writing is strong and the concept bold, played out beautifully and masterfully. If for no other reason, I recommend this book because of the look into Asperger's it gives- and the compassion and understanding it can help build towards this disorder. Though Jacob certainly did not become very high functioning on his own- his mother played a tremendous role in that even if it meant Theo was unintentionally pushed aside- he has learned ways to navigate the world and things to do in an effort to fit in which is certainly something he wants.

Source: Library
Hardcover: 544 pages
Publisher: Atria; 1 edition (March 2, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0743296435
ISBN-13: 978-0743296434

Author's Website


  1. Great review! This sounds like a really interesting read.

  2. I really enjoyed this book review. There is a real need for more books that deal with adult disabilities.

  3. Fantastic review! I liked this book but I felt it ended kind of abruptly.

  4. I love the Jodi Picoult books I read, so I definitely have to give this one a try. nice review!