Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

The Hunt household has five house rules:

1. Clean up your own messes.
2. Tell the truth.
3. Brush your teeth twice a day.
4. Don't be late for school.
5. Take care of your brother; he's the only one you've got.

But what happens when you try to follow four of the house rules and in the process begin to violate the other? This is Jacob's dilemma in House Rules, by Jodi Picoult.

House Rules: A NovelWhen I wrote this post on Jodi Picoult a few days ago, I had just begun to read House Rules. I hoped that I would not be disappointed with this new novel by Picoult and possibly have to eat my words about how good of an author she is. Well, I can say now, I don't think she is a good author. I think she is possibly the BEST fiction author we have today!  

Jacob Hunt is, in some ways, a typical teenager. He enjoys his independence, desires friendship with others his age, and wants to get a driver's license. But, in many other ways, Jacob is different. Jacob has Asperger's syndrome. He looks at the world in ways that are hard to understand for those who do not have AS.

"The world, for Jacob, is truly black and white. Once, when he was younger, his gym teacher called because Jacob had a meltdown during kickball when a kid threw the big red ball at him to tag him out. You don't throw things at people, Jacob tearfully explained. It's a rule!

Why should a rule that works in one situation not work in another? If a bully taunts him and I tell him it's all right to reciprocate - because sometimes that's the only way to get these kids to leave him alone - why shouldn't he do the same with a teacher who humiliates him in public?"

There's something else that sets Jacob apart from most other eighteen-year-olds. Jacob has a fascination with forensic analysis. He loves to construct crime scenes. He also enjoys showing up at crime scene investigations and watching the detectives as they sift through the evidence. So, one night, whenever he heard on his police scanner of a dead body found near his home, he immediately hopped on his bike and raced to the scene. He then proceeded to "help" the police solve the case.

"I have often thought...about what would happen if Jacob was stopped by the police while he was on his own - like on Sundays, when he bikes into town to meet Jess. Like the parents of many autistic kids, I've done what the message boards suggest: In Jacob's wallet is a card that says he's autistic, and that explains to the officer that all the behaviors Jacob is exibiting - flat affect, an inability to look him in the eye, even a flight response - are the hallmarks of Asperger's syndrome. And yet, I've wondered what would happen if the police came in contact with a six-foot, 185-pound, out-of-control boy who reached into his back pocket. Would they wait for him to show his ID card, or would they shoot first?

This is in part why Jacob isn't allowed to drive. He has had the state driver's manual memorized since he was fifteen, and I know he'd follow traffic rules as if his life depended on it. But what if he got pulled over by a state trooper? Do you know what you were doing? the trooper would say, and Jacob would reply: Driving. Immediately he'd be tagged as a wise guy when, in fact, he was only answering the question literally."

It is this literalness that gets Jacob into deeper trouble when he is arrested for murder. People misinterpret Jacob and his reponses to their questions. Even his mother doubts his innocence. Is Jacob guilty of murder, or is it all just a misunderstanding?

House Rules taught me a lot of things. I learned that terrapins and box turtles are not the same thing. I learned the origin of the word stir-crazy. I learned that dogs sweat through the pads of their feet. But most importantly I learned a lot about what it is like to be someone who has Asperger's and someone who lives with a relative who has Asperger's. And what I learned has made me more understanding and sensitive to those people. For that, I am thankful to Mrs. Picoult. This was an enlightening as well as entertaining read.

I have heard many people say that they have read Picoult's books and didn't like them. If you are one of these people, I would encourage you to try again with House Rules. And if you have never read any of her books, consider reading this one. I think you'll see why I think of Jodi Picoult as one of my favorite authors.

Other reviews of House Rules:


Jennifer (Crazy-for-Books) said...

Great review! I loved this book!!

Sherry said...

I've read a couple of books by Piccoult: one I thought was OK and another I thought was stupid (Change of Heart). I really like books about Aspergers and autistic young people because I think they give me a different perspective on the world. So I may try this one out.

I can suggest some more really good books with characters who have Aspergers if you want.

Framed said...

I've read four of her books, liked two and the others were just okay. I am impressed by the range of topics she writes about. Her research must be phenomenal. I just finished a book called Eye Contact that is about an autistic boy. Very insightful.