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House Rules is about Jacob Hunt, 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 Asperger's, 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. Bur 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 poorly for those who don't. JODI PICOULT is the author of seventeen novels, including "Handle With Care, Change of Heart," "Nineteen Minutes," and" My Sister's Keeper, "now a major motion picture. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.
- ISBN-13: 9780743296434
- ISBN-10: 0743296435
- Publisher: Atria Books
- Publish Date: March 2010
- Page Count: 532
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 34.
- Review Date: 2009-12-21
- Reviewer: Staff
Perennial bestseller Picoult (Handle with Care) has a rough time in this Picoult-esque blend of medical and courtroom drama that lacks her usual storytelling finesse. Eighteen-year old Jacob Hunt has Asperger's syndrome, and his devoted single mother, Emma, has built their family's life around Jacob's needs, sacrificing her career to act as his caregiver and all but ignoring a younger son, Theo. But when Jacob is accused of murder, that carefully crafted life comes apart, and all of the hallmarks of Jacob's diagnosis begin to make him look guilty. Emma hires a young attorney whose attachment to Jacob brings him close to the family as he struggles to mount a defense for Jacob, whose inability to read social cues makes him less than an ideal client. While Picoult's research is impeccable and she deals intelligently with charged questions about autism and Asperger's, the whodunit is stretched sitcom-thin and handled poorly, with characters withholding information from the reader throughout. Picoult's writing, line by line, is as smooth as ever, and she does a great job of getting into Jacob's head, but the wobbly plotting is a massive detriment. (Mar.)
Breaking the rules
In House Rules, Jodi Picoult explores one of the more polarizing and confounding issues facing parents today: Are childhood vaccines somehow linked to the hauntingly frequent diagnoses of autism in today’s kids? And what does our society need to do to accommodate this growing group of people who communicate differently, if at all?
Jacob Hunt looks like any other teenager, but once he starts talking it becomes clear that he’s not, as parents of children with autism often say, “neurotypical.” Dismal at understanding the social cues that guide human interaction, he doesn’t understand why kids at his high school don’t want to hear about his vast, gory knowledge of forensic science. He’s highly sensitive to unexpected situations, the sound of crumpling paper and the color orange. He’s mystified when local cops don’t appreciate him showing up at crime scenes (his mom gave him a police scanner as a well-meaning but misguided birthday gift) to point out all the clues they’ve missed. Jacob’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome—and his involvement in local crimes—has made his family outcasts in their own small New England town.
“I just don’t get the social hints that other people do,” Jacob says. “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. I don’t understand why people never say what they mean.” Jacob’s only friend is his social skills tutor, Jess, a student at the local college. But when Jess turns up dead, all clues point to Jacob. Even his mother, who has devoted her life to every therapy and supplement that can improve Jacob’s quality of life, is left wondering whether her son is capable of snapping.
Picoult is at her razor-sharp best with House Rules. It’s both a tender look at the depths of a mother’s love and a searing examination of how we treat those who are different, and whether we expect them to play by the same rules.
Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.