Friday, June 4, 2010

House Rules

House Rules by Jodi Picoult
Simon & Schuster, March 2010
Hardcover, 532 pages
ISBN-13: 9780743296434
Recommended for fans

Library Journal
In life some things are never to be broken—especially if you are an autistic child who takes "everything" literally. For example, some things that can't be broken are the house rules: tell the truth, brush your teeth, and, most important, take care of your brother; he's the only one you've got. In this 18th novel from Picoult (My Sister's Keeper), Jacob Hunt is a teenager with Asperger's syndrome and a morbid fascination with forensic science. He can recite all the intricacies of fingerprint analysis and recall the episode and number of his favorite TV crime show, but he can't feel your pain or emotions. For emotional intelligence Jacob has a tutor—until the tutor is found murdered. When Jacob is questioned, the same hallmark signs of his Asperger's that made him quirky also make him look very guilty—even to those who love him. VERDICT Picoult has many fans, and they won't be disappointed here. She is the master of telling a story that at first glance seems predictable but seldom is.—Marike Zemke, Commerce Twp. Community Lib., MI

My Thoughts:
Jodi, Jodi, Jodi, you know I normally enjoy your books and although House Rules was no exception, it did stretch believability with me a bit because I have a close relative with Asperger's who is, admittedly, very highly functioning - much more so than your character, Jacob. In some ways I saw the aspie traits you tried to so carefully introduce but in other ways you gave him so many symptoms (some of them seemed more autistic) and then made them all extreme. Additionally you seemed to imply that all people with Asperger's are going to have extreme traits. Sorry - it just isn't the case. While reading I silently said, "Yes, that is believable" or alternately muttered, "Come on. Does he have to have all of these extremely debilitating traits?" On the other hand I think there was quite a bit of truth in the description of a family living with AS.

The story itself wasn't quite as tightly plotted and suspenseful as most of Jodi Picoult's books are. The continuity was not as carefully followed either. (For example, Jacob is described as having a color for every day, foods and clothes need to be that day's color, yet she also says, as seen below in the quotes, that he might not change his shirt daily. Yes, the not changing a shirt daily can be an aspie trait but he can't have that trait AND follow his day of the week color rule. A choice needs to be made. He was also described as not good at math and then suddenly was good at math. There were some other examples but I don't want to get close to any spoilers.) As in many of her other books, we again heard the story through several characters, which I enjoy. This time I knew the twist almost immediately. Basically, House Rules seemed to follow what has recently become a formulaic, predictable plot for Picoult, which is a shame because Picoult is a very talented writer who most certainly can do better. I enjoyed House Rules and would recommend it, especially for fans of Picoult, but would caution that it is not, perhaps, one of her better novels.
Recommended, compared to other Picoult books, especially for fans.

Everywhere I look, there are signs of a struggle. The mail has been scattered all over the kitchen floor; the stools are overturned. The phone has been knocked off its pedestal, its battery pack hanging loose from an umbilicus of wires. There's one single faint footprint at the threshold of the living room, pointing toward the dead body of my son, Jacob. pg. 3

"Seriously, Mom, a kindergartner could have solved this case," Jacob says, jumping to his feet. Fake blood drips down the side of his face, but he doesn't notice; when he is intensely focused on crime scene analysis,
I think a nuclear bomb could detonate beside him and he'd never flinch. pg. 4

I follow Jacob into the kitchen and watch him back into a corner.
"What we got here," Jacob mutters, his voice a sudden drawl, "is ... failure to communicate." He crouches down, hugging his knees.
When he cannot find the words for how he feels, he borrows someone else's. These come from Cool Hand Luke; Jacob remembers the dialogue from every movie he's ever seen.
I've met so many parents of kids who are on the low end of the autism spectrum, kids who are diametrically opposed to Jacob, with his Asperger's. 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. pg. 5

There's a lot of fuss about whether or not Asperger's is on the autism spectrum, but to be honest, it doesn't matter. It's a term we use to get Jacob the accommodations he needs in school, not a label to explain who he is. If you met him now, the first thing you'd notice is that he might have forgotten to change his shirt from yesterday or to brush his hair. If you talk to him, you'll have to be the one to start the conversation. He won't look you in the eye. And if you pause to speak to someone else for a brief moment, you might turn back to find that Jacob's left the room. pg. 7

I am supposed to make exceptions for Jacob; it's one of our unwritten house rules. So when we need to take a detour away from a detour sign (how ironic is that?) since it's orange and freaks Jacob out, that trumps the fact that I'm ten minutes late for school. pg. 12

I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome long before it became the mental health order du jour, overused by parents to describe their bratty kids so that people think they're supergeniuses instead of simply antisocial. pg. 17

I just don't get the social hints that other people do. So if I'm talking to someone in class and he says, "Man, is it one o'clock already?" I look at the clock and tell him that yes, it is one o'clock already, when in reality he is trying to find a polite way to get away from me. pg. 19

Isolation. A fixation on one particular subject. An inability to connect socially.
Jacob was the one diagnosed, but I might as well have Asperger's, too. pg. 42

"Consider it a new house rule. You are not to sneak out of here unless you tell me first."
"Technically, that wouldn't be sneaking," he points out. pg 45

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