Friday, May 21, 2010

Review: House Rules

They tell me I'm lucky to have a son who's so verbal, who is blisteringly intelligent, who can take apart the broken microwave and have it working again an hour later. They think there is no greater hell than having a son who is locked in his own world, unaware that there's a wider one to explore. But try having a son who is locked in his own world, and still wants to make a connection. A son who tries to be like everyone else, but truly doesn't know how.

Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. He's hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject -- in his case, forensic analysis. He's always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do...and he's usually right. But then his town is rocked by a terrible murder and, for a change, the police come to Jacob with questions. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger's -- not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, flat affect -- can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob and his family, who only want to fit in, feel the spotlight shining directly on them. For his mother, Emma, it's a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it's another indication of why nothing is normal because of Jacob. And over this small family the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?

Emotionally powerful from beginning to end, House Rules looks at what it means to be different in our society, how autism affects a family, and how our legal system works well for people who communicate a certain way -- and fails those who don't. -- Atria

I was terribly excited to read HOUSE RULES by Jodi Picoult because I pretty much know that I'm in for a good story. When I read the description of this novel, I thought is sounded fascinating -- a young man with Asperger's who is arrested for murder. I am familiar enough with Asperger's (mainly from books) to know that a person diagnosed with this disorder isn't going to come across well to the police, a judge and especially a jury; and I just knew Ms. Picoult would include enough surprises to make it interesting. I thought this novel had a lot of potential to be gripping; and as a result, I had pretty high hopes.

I'm not surprised that Ms. Picoult decided to write her latest novel about a child with Asperger's. In the past decade, the diagnoses of this disorder have increased dramatically. Thank goodness I'm not personally familiar with Asperger's, but like many people, I know of at least one child who has been diagnosed with autism. I think it's an extremely timely (and important) issue and I was glad to see it addressed in this novel.

Unfortunately, though, this novel didn't live up to my expectations. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it because I certainly did. I just didn't think it was as good as some of Ms. Picoult's other novels. I think my biggest issue was the length -- it was over 525 pages. Frankly, I thought it was way too long. I'm certainly not an expert, but I think the book could have been 350 pages and still told the same story. In fact, had the book been shorter, I think I would have enjoyed it much more. I thought the beginning was very slow moving for me, and I didn't actually get caught up in it until the second half of the novel.

Having said all of that, the last half of the novel was exactly what I've come to expect from Jodi Picoult. I finally felt an attachment to the characters and their story; and I was most curious to see how the trial would eventually end. As is the case with most Ms. Picoult novels, there were a some secrets and a few surprises thrown in; however, I wouldn't say that anything was as shocking as some of her other novels. One thing that did throw me for a curve was the abrupt ending. I felt like everything was wrapped up in just a few pages -- it didn't really seem to fit with the pace of the rest of the novel.

I am most certainly not an expert on autism or Asperger's, but I did feel as if Ms. Picoult accurately depicted the disorder. (I could be totally wrong on that, and I'd love to hear your opinion!) It's evident to me that Ms. Picoult did a tremendous amount of research on the subject including the science side as well as the behavioral side. I also appreciated all of the research she conducted on forensic science. I find that subject matter to be incredibly interesting, so I liked that she included it as a side story.

One thing I've really come to appreciate about Ms. Picoult's novels are the way she tells a story. Her writing is just so easy to read as is her dialogue. Even though this novel was pretty long, once I got into the story, I flew through it. She does a great job of bringing her characters to life and making them seem so real to me. I enjoyed how she alternated chapters between the various characters and told the story in each of their words. I think she captured the voice of each character and made their thoughts and actions very believable.

I will admit that this book did affect me a great deal -- not necessarily because of the storyline, but rather because my heart went out to many of the characters is this story. Of course, I felt awful that Jacob had to not only lose one of his only friends, but also be accused of her murder. And, I thought his younger brother Theo also was also damaged because of Jacob's situation. However, as a mom, I felt a real connection with Jacob's and Theo's mother Emma. I could relate to her need/desire to protect her child from society, and I respected her for sacrificing so much of herself for her child. She definitely wasn't a perfect mother, but she always tried to do her best. I don't know how she managed to have so much strength -- I doubt that I would have been as strong in her situation.

It should come as no surprise that HOUSE RULES is terrific for book club discussions. In fact, I think all of Jodi Picoult's novels are ideal for book clubs because they deal with difficult, yet timely, issues. There is a reading guide available which has fourteen thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes in this novel include family dynamics, autism, parent/child relationships, guilt vs. innocence, and honesty vs. deception. My group has discussed a Jodi Picoult novel before, and I can promise that you will have plenty to discuss!

HOUSE RULES is the SheKnows Book Club pick for April/May. Since I am a SheKnows Book Club Blogger, I will be participating in the on-line discussion within the next few weeks, and I'd love to have you join us. Stay tuned for further information on the dates and times. I think it will be very interesting to hear everyone's thoughts about this novel.

Thanks to SheKnows Book Club for providing me with a copy of this novel.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I've been waffling back and forth on this one. After reading Jen's recent review, I ordered it on audio (easier for me to get through the long ones on audio). I have two friends whose daughters have symptoms of Asperger's but are not officially diagnosed as such. So I see what they go through. In fact, one of my friends is starting a blog, if only just to get her thoughts down as a form of therapy.

I have come to be underwhelmed by Piccoult. She does tend to follow a formula, but she does still entertain.

bermudaonion said...

There are a lot of long books, that could be improved by a good editing, so I know exactly what you mean. I have enjoyed the Picoult books I've read and agree that her writing is very easy to read.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I am probably the only one in the universe who has not read a Picoult book. There sure seem to be a lot of books about Asperger's lately. I just read a second one in two months!

Anonymous said...

It's a shame it didn't quite live up to your expectations. I've only read a couple of Picoult's books. Her topics, in general, are more serious than I usually want to read.

spinmama said...

I find it interesting that you found the book to be long and a little slow. As a mother of a 20 year old son with Down's syndrome and autism, I can tell you that is what life is like. Without exaggeration, it takes my son 10 minutes to dress himself, in clothes that I have picked out for him, each morning. Everything surrounding their lives is in slow motion. I once watched him dry his hands on a towel, slowly lifting his hand to the top of the towel and then slowing wiping it down, 3 times for each hand. It's excruciating for me to watch, but all of their movements are deliberate and singular. They do no two things at once. Life is slow in our house and there is nothing we can do about it.
The time didn't bother me, what bothered me was the mom character. liked the autistic character right away. I liked the way he told his mom in the beginning that she'd never make a good detective. Turns out he was right. All the moms I know with autistic kids know how to talk to them to get information from then. We are literally detectives. Digging for information and clues every day would be an expert at it too. So why didn't she ask him the right questions right away to find out the truth about what happened?

I really liked the book. Maybe it was written at a pace I'm used to!!!

Skyler said...

Aspergers children are good in studies and they like to be alone always. These can affect the child in future. These children are good in their subject and want the things to happen as they wish. They get very aggressive when it goes wrong.

Anonymous said...

Jodi is great b/c she always delves into such relevant topics. Can't wait to read this one.