Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review: House Rules

I have just finished House Rules by Jodi Picoult for the Autism Awareness Challenge from PageTurners. I am a long-time fan of Picoult's writing, and I have read all of her books. She has never disappointed me, and this book was no different. Her masterful way of blending current events with fantastic description and great attention to detail always end up teaching me something about the subject, while allowing me to connect to the many voices that tell her stories.

House Rules is the story of Jacob Hunt, an eighteen-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome which is a highly functioning form of Autism. Asperger's tends to manifest itself as painful social awkwardness including not being able to read queues "neurotypical" people may use to analyze a situation, inability to feel empathy, intense interest (bordering on obsession) with a limited number of subjects - for Jacob, it's Crime Scene Investigation - and other personality "quirks" such as speaking in a monotone voice, taking everything one hears literally, and having an unbreakable affinity towards order in life and following rules. Jacob exhibits all of these traits, and when he is implicated in the murder of his tutor - he must face an unforgiving justice system that is clearly not built to handles anything but "normal."

One quirk that Jacob has is his great interest in Crime Scene Investigation. Every day at four o'clock, he watches CrimeBusters on television. He keeps track in a composition notebook synopses of each of the episodes (even if he's already seen it), complete with evidence, and how long it takes him to figure out "who done it." I found myself playing this same game with the events in the novel as I read, trying to "figure it out" before the cops and lawyers in the story did!

As is typical of her style, Picoult jumps between the main characters voices as narrators for her story. Each chapter will represent a different character's view and inner feelings, so the reader gets a great sense of how each person is dealing with the situation as they see it. I think this style lends itself very well to her usually court-room centered action as it is similar to what one would see watching witnesses being questioned on the stand. For someone who purportedly writes about "family, relationships, and love" - she writes pretty darn good courtroom drama too! I would say it would appeal to people who LIKE courtroom drama, as well as those who don't - because of the straightforward way it is presented. You don't need to have passed the bar to to appreciate the lyrical way she presents her evidence!

I had the opportunity to go see Jodi Picoult do a reading a few weeks ago, just after House Rules was released. Many of the questions from the audience focused around how she does her research for her books and with this topic, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she spoke with many, many teens that have Asperger's or fall on the Autism spectrum. Without that knowledge, it would have been impossible for her to truly write from the perspective of an Autistic character. It's good to know that  people who live this life everyday sign off on Picoult's representation of an Autistic character as realistic.

This novel was - no spoilers, I promise! - a surprise all the way through. Picoult keeps both her characters and her readers in the dark until the perfect moment presents itself. I love novels that keep me guessing - I wouldn't want to read the end if I knew for sure what was going to happen! I, of course, had my theories - Jacob would be proud! - but nothing will ever prepare you for what Picoult has in store.


  1. Great Review - I love Picoult's writing but I have been putting this book off. Not sure I can read something this intense about a child with Aspergers. Thanks for participating in our challenge.

  2. Thanks for having it! It was a lot of fun - and I understand your reservations, but she handles the situation very well - I wasn't sure of this fact when before hearing her speak, but knowing that her "editors" were kids and young adults that deal with Asperger's every day - that really made her take on it much easier to accept as "truth." Thanks again!