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Book Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

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Emma is the mother of two boys, Theo and Jacob, and husbandless. Because her spouse was unwilling to share the burden of massive amounts of time Emma devotes to their autistic son, Jacob, her husband abandons the family. Alone, she deals with the difficulties of raising their brilliantly autistic son with Asperger’s so he appears as normal as possible.

In truth, the makeup of Jacob’s Asperger’s brain does not allow him to express feelings. People treat him as an alien to the human race because he knows only frankness. Case in point: in the seventh grade, Jacob sits beside a girl in the cafeteria:

Girl: You wanna taste my slushie?

Jacob: Sharing drinks could give me mono. So can kissing.

Girl (leaving table): I’m going to sit somewhere else …

Emma’s second son, Theo, grows up in this home dominated by constant care for Jacob. Theo feels neglected. To escape their home when Jacob is “freakin’ out,” Theo has become a bandit; after school, he often cases out homes. Then, when owners are away, he sneaks inside and steals items he loves: MP3 players, video games, ipods, and CDs.

Jacob, on the other hand, has an obsession with forensics. He solves murder mysteries on television keeping notes of the clues that led to his conclusions. He reads everything he can to learn about detective work, forensic procedures, and autopsy discoveries. Often, he stages a murder in his own home and delights when he stumps his mother with the clues he creates.

Jacob’s mother pays young Jess, to help befriend Jacob and teach him more appropriate social behaviors. Jess does her very best, which is not enough to keep Jacob’s Aspergers’s from constantly needing her attention. Jess’ boyfriend angrily deserts her because he feels she dotes on Jacob.

After receiving an anonymous tip, police are shocked to find Jess dead not far from her apartment. Her body lies near a culvert in a wooded area with Jacob’s favorite blanket wrapped around her. When questioned, his Asperger’s forces him to answer every probing question accurately and truthfully. During his trial, he admits to being in Jess’ home, repulsed by all the blood found in and around her bathroom. He admits carrying Jess’ corpse to the culvert and placing her broken tooth in one of her pockets.

Horrified beyond grief, his mother cannot imagine Jacob surviving in prison. She admits her autistic son occasionally thrashes out in a physical way but surely not in a murderous way. And yet, Jacob’s own damning testimony along with convincing forensic evidence undermines hers and Theo’s belief in Jacob’s innocence.

Jacob’s lawyer attempts to enter an insanity plea but psychiatric testing proves Jacob was fully aware of the crime committed. He seems to have a motive. He didn’t like the attention Jess gave her boyfriend whom he considered an inferior dimwit. All hope of acquittal seems lost.

This masterful story will have you racing to find out what happens to this young man. Will he survive his court trial? Will he finally admit murdering Jess and deliberately planting clues to mislead police? Or will his absolute honesty somehow save him from what seems like an inevitable guilty conviction?

House Rules will not disappoint. The simple series of events is easy to follow and so well thought out you will find yourself in the story questioning Jacob’s innocence. How could the evidence be otherwise? The various chapters move quickly because the tale is told from inside the heads of the main characters: Jacob, his mother Emma, his brother Theo, Officer Rich, and defense lawyer Oliver.

Since I used to work with students with special needs, I must admit that author Jodi Picoult has written the character of Jacob with his Asberger’s disorder in an often humorous and yet pathetic way. With his high IQ (140), he will fascinate you. Although his absolute straightforwardness wins him few friends, he always plays by the rules, House Rules. He is incapable of doing otherwise. One can only imagine the hardships his mother and brother encountered trying to train Jacob to act normal.

Jacob: “I have a joke: Two muffins are in an oven.
One muffin says, “Wow, it’s really hot in here.”
The other one jumps and says, “Yikes! A talking muffin.”

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About Regis Schilken

  • Thym

    I think this is a very good review. I’m reading the book right now, it’s the first book I’ve ever read by Jodi Picoult and I’m fascinated by the story and the characters. To me, it doesn’t sound cliche at all

  • books10

    This sounds awfully familiar.. real original jodi