Sunday, May 01, 2011

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

House Rules by Jodi Picoult tells the story of what happens when Jacob Hunt, a teen with Asperger's syndrome, is accused of murder. It tells the story of not only what happens to Jacob, but how it impacts his entire family. When the inability to look somebody in the eye is part of your diagnosis, you're bound to look guilty, and Picoult shows what it is like for somebody with a developmental disorder, somebody obsessive at certain things- in Jacob's case, crime scene analysis- and hopeless at others, like reading social cues, to go through the criminal justice system. House Rules is told in alternating perspectives, including Jacob, his mother Emma, his younger brother Theo, their attorney Oliver, and police detective Rich. Everyone is impacted by Jacob's arrest for murder in a different way, but one thing they all are afraid to know is did Jacob actually do it?

House Rules was my first experience with Picoult and I admit to mainly picking up the book because it was narrated by a full cast on audiobook and I found that idea really interesting and something I had no experience before. I really enjoyed the audiobook experience, although at about twenty hours long it took me about a month to finish and I will probably stick to shorter books in the future. The various voices Picoult used all sounded both realistic and different, but ultimately I was unsure that the character of Rich needed to have his own narrative. Rich has a child of his own and there is a bunch of background on how divorced impacted him and how he wishes he could spend more time with his daughter, and although the point being made is that he relates to Emma's love for Jacob, it seemed like unnecessary information that dragged down the story and following Jacob's arrest I definitely felt like House Rules would have managed fine without Rich's perspective.

When it comes to how realistic House Rules was, I don't know anyone personally on the autistic spectrum so that is hard for me to judge. That said, I really appreciated the insight Picoult gave into what life is like for Jacob versus how he appears to others. I liked that Jacob was smart and funny and not somebody to be pitied. There was clearly a lot of research that went into the novel, not just for Jacob's perspective but also for the criminal justice system and forensic science in general and I definitely learned quite a bit reading it. That said, House Rules is definitely not any kind of murder mystery as the killer is immediately obvious from almost instantly after the death occurs, so the reason I continued reading the book was not to find out whodunnit but rather because the characters were strong and well-written and I felt personally invested in things turning out okay for them. I did feel that for a book where so much time was spent in courtroom scenes and developing the story, the ending was quite rushed in comparison. I also felt the reintroduction of a character who had not been there throughout the rest of the story was overly optimistic, especially considering how realistic most of the book was.

Unrelated to the actual story, the cover of House Rules is ridiculous. If that is supposed to, as seems most logical, Jacob on the cover he is eighteen and not a young boy. There is also no body of water involved in the book or beach for him to be playing at. Luckily, as an audiobook I didn't really have to look at the cover but I definitely think it is a very poor representation of the novel. As much as I enjoyed getting to know the characters in House Rules, I did have one major frustration with the book which is the entire premise upon which it is built- nobody asks Jacob if he committed murder or not. Considering that Jacob is unable to lie believably, I found it hard and frustrating to see that nobody wanted to know if he was the murderer. Picoult explains this using various justifications- the lawyer doesn't want to know for legal reasons, Emma is afraid to know- but when it comes down to it I feel like somebody would have asked him. Still, in the end, it is a very strong novel from an emotional perspective as well as extremely well-researched. In writing House Rules Picoult gives insight not only into one fictional but believable family's lives, but also into the joys and the struggles that come with raising a child who has Asperger's.

Release Date: March 2nd, 2010
Length: 19 hours 55 minutes (532 pages)
Source: Audiobook
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1 comment:

  1. I'm just writing a review for this book on my blog myself! I totally agree about the irrelevance of Rich's narrative, and also about the frustration that no one ASKS Jacob whether he killed her! However, I didn't guess the murderer, and I don't even really know if it can be said that they "murdered" her. Anyway, great post :)
    P.S. my blog is if you fancy checking out my review :)


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