House Rules by Jodi Picoult

This week has been so incredibly difficult for me that this book has been pure escape. On the other hand, there have been happenings this week for which I have been incredibly grateful- like all the snow which kept me out of every single on of my painting classes. For those who don’t know, I’m quite the artistic individual and incredibly right brained- I’ve begun to thing I could have my left brain removed without significant impairment to my functioning- but my hands haven’t really gotten the picture. Drawing and painting aren’t my medium, and so I’ve found the class incredibly frustrating. Actually less so since we’ve done less actual painting- these past two months have been spent between clay projects (also something I’m not particularly amazing at) and oral reports on an artist of our choice. Besides that, we just have to paint at home, which is much easier. I tend to go abstract.

So I’ve been glad to be out of painting. I’ve also been neglecting astronomy, since objectively speaking I know I still have time to get it done. Instead, I’ve been working on astronomy lab (which is a different class) and history. I’ve had a lot of work to do, and none of it is actually done. As for today- well, I’ve been in an extreme amount of pain. But in the spaces, I’ve still been reading this book.

House Rules, newest novel by my favorite authoress, the amazing and talented Jodi Picoult. I love this woman’s work. This novel is about an eighteen year-old man with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Jacob has an intense interest in forensics, which leads to him setting up fake crime scenes for his mother to solve, watching endless episodes of his favorite television show, Crimebusters, and recording case details in a series of notebooks. He’s also developed a tendency to show up at crime scenes and drop hints to help the CSIs solve the case he’s already figured out.

All of this makes him strange.

Because Jacob has Asperger’s, he has virtually no social skills at all. Asperger’s is described as a basic lack in any sort of empathy- a person was AS can’t relate to other people. It’s difficult to explain- the book does it in fragments- but because of all this, Jacob had a social skills tutor, whose job it was to teach him how to act appropriately in these situations he couldn’t read. It was described as going to a foreign country and not knowing the language.

So Jacob is an autistic person with a fixation on forensics, who can’t relate to people at all. He also carries other hallmarks of AS, such as stimming, echoing, and an inability to look people in the eye. And other “quirks.”

These are only a few of the reasons why, when someone shows up dead, Jacob looks very suspicious.

I’ll say this right now: I love Jodi Picoult, and I want to marry her brain. I’ve read twelve of her (nineteen) books, and they’re all fantastic. She’s just marvelous in description and scene, everything connects, but probably the part that really sells me, is the characters.

In a Jodi Picoult book, every character may not be likeable- but they are all very understandable. You can place yourself into each of their shoes. By the end of the book, you may not have done what they did, but you understand why they did it. So what it boils down to is what kind of person they are.

Part of the reason for this is that many of Picoult’s novels feature a multiple-narrator point of view, where each chapter is headed by a character’s name, the font changes, and the story is told through their eyes for a time. It works fantastically well. She also uses excerpts from history, scientific facts, and personal flashbacks to illustrate ideas, all of it coming through in the voice of the character narrating.

Another thing she does is take an interest from a character, and make it a recurring thing- just an aside from the story, something to remind you where this all comes from. In My Sister’s Keeper, it was firefighting, because the father was a firefighter. In Handle with Care, it was baking, because the mother had been a baker. Between every five or six chapters she would give you a recipe for some desert and explain how to make it in a way that made you more sympathetic to Charlotte. In House Rules, she used murder. Every few chapters, she would describe a historic murder, how it was committed, and how the killer was caught.

One thing I will say for this one, which I consider a detriment, is that for the first time, I knew how it had happened. I had actually figured it out, based on the points of view of the different characters involved. It’s possible she meant for this to be the case, but I’m used to being surprised by the big reveal. I enjoy it. And that’s the main reason why this won’t rank up with my favorites of hers.

Oh, and if you’re curious- the reason it’s called House Rules is that, since Jacob is autistic and Theo (the younger brother) is not, Emma (the mother) set up a list of mutually relevant rules for them both to follow. These rules turn out to be incredibly relevant as more and more of the story comes out.

Really, though- it might not have been one of my favorites, but I still read it in every spare moment. I never wanted to put it down. I read 532 in under five days. I paid for it before reading it. It was worth every ridiculously expensive penny.

Have you noticed how expensive books have gotten lately?

But anyway. If you want to read a Jodi Picoult, begin with My Sister’s Keeper- thanks to the movie, that one’s probably the most well-known, it was the first of hers that I read, and it’s still one of my favorites. Then you can read the entire rest of her life’s work.

Next, I’m going to reread a couple of books from my list of recs (which is over at the top of the page on the right), then in a couple of weeks, I’ll pay a visit to the library. Until then, folks.

Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 11:26 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It must have been a tough week if a Jodi Picoult book was your happy escape 😉 I do hope you’re feeling better though. Shark week’s a bitch.

    And to all those who read this review and feel the need to scroll through the comments: I agree with the reviewer, read My Sister’s Keeper first because it is a few million times better than the film ever hopes to be.

    • Her writing gives me happy thrills, dude. Even when they’re trying to convict a murderer. I delight in it.

      Hear hear!

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