This is Jodi Picoult’s latest offering. House Rules is about Jacob and his family. Jacob is not your neurotypical kid. He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). Thus, while Jacob’s IQ is in the top one percent, it doesn’t necessarily show in his work, lives in a literal world and struggles socially. 18 year old Jacob lives with his mother Emma and his younger brother Theo. Their father walked out on them when Theo was just a baby because he could apparently not handle Jacob’s diagnosis. Like most children with AS, Jacob has fixed interests…at one time it was dogs, at another it was dinosaurs. At this stage in life, he is obsessed with forensics. Not just the crime shows but the intricacies such as fingerprints and tests and other clues. Jacob also has other quirks. He has his days colour-coded. For instance, he has ‘Blue Fridays’ where clothes he wears are blue, the food he eats has to be blue. If not, he will have a meltdown. To assist with his social skills, Jacob receives tutoring from a university student Jess.
The family are getting on with their life in their own way…Emma taking each day as it comes, Theo withdrawing and feeling resentment at some of the things he has to give up and taking refuge in stranger’s houses pretending he has a ‘normal’ family, and Jacob following his routines day in and day out. Things take a turn for the worse when Jess (Jacob’s tutor) is found dead. While the initial suspect is her extremely possessive and abusive boyfriend, Emma notices Jacob’s rainbow coloured handmade quilt wrapped around Jess’ body as the breaking story is aired on the news. What follows is nothing short of a nightmare for someone with AS. Jacob is taken to the police station where he is tricked into talking about Jess. In his literal world, he says he didn’t mean to do it. Resulting in him being charged with her murder.
How does a person with AS cope with the justice system?
Can a person with AS get a fair trial since to a layperson, this individual who does not show empathy the way most of us do could be mistaken to be a psychopath?
Is AS a disability? Or just a different ability?
Has Jacob really killed Jess? If so, was it in a fit of anger and impulsiveness? If not, who was it? And why did he tamper with the crime scene?
The book is a good read and keeps you hooked till the end. In true Picoult-style, each chapter is narrated by a different character. The characters are all well-drawn and likeable. The star is of course Jacob. Picoult has done her research well when it comes to AS and the theories about causal factors as well as the interventions and management at home and school. She manages to educate the lay person about AS and the difficulties as well as the bright side of it.
However, this book is still not as good as some of her other works. The end was a bit anti-climactic for me; possibly because I have become accustomed to her twists in the tale which for some reason did not really happen. Also, while I am no expert in AS, I found some things a bit hard to believe about Jacob. For instance, him setting up the crime scene was a bit ludicrous to me given that he is an intelligent boy. Anyone with that level of intelligence as well as obsession with forensics and crime would know you do not tamper with a crime scene and expect to get away with it. AS or no AS. It was not like it was an impulsive act like some behaviours can be when it comes to AS and therefore I just could not get my head around why he would do that.
I would definitely recommend a read…as I would for most of Picoult’s books. But don’t read it with expectations that it would be equivalent to My Sister’s Keeper or Nineteen Minutes or Picture Perfect.
Read it to enjoy the ride.
Until next time,