Jodi Picoult and autism

Never having read Jodi Picoult before, I was a little surprised to be asked by her publishers if I wanted to read her latest novel. That was until I realised that it’s about Asperger Syndrome and autism. So yes, I did want to read it. It’s easy to feel cynical about writers jumping on a perceived aspie bandwagon, but anyone who can write something new and true is welcome. So Jodi is welcome. Very.

She’s done her homework, and she has filled the 500+ pages of House Rules with an easy-to-read story, except because the topic is hard to take sometimes, it’s not all sunshine and happiness. But I gather this goes for Jodi’s novels in general. Daughter told me about another of Jodi’s books (she doesn’t read them, either, but her friend does – avidly) which did not seem to have a happy ending, meaning I didn’t expect a marshmallow finish to what was an extremely gripping story.

Let’s be honest. There is a little too much aspie-ness in the book. Her research has clearly given Jodi a tremendous amount of useful and very heartfelt and above all very true facts. However, maybe her protagonist Jacob is just that little bit too textbook aspie. Maybe. House Rules has apparently been ‘tested’ by an aspie teenager, which is good. Many of us will recognise a lot of what Jacob’s mum Emma experiences. But because this is popular fiction I’d say that Emma is too perfect and so is Jacob’s brother Theo. The thing is, just because family members work hard for their aspie son/brother, doesn’t mean they don’t have any problems of heir own, apart from the Asperger Syndrome they have to live with.

Anyway, let’s get to the plot, which is very devious and interesting. And different. 18-year-old Jacob is an intelligent young man with an obsession for crime scene investigations, which seems innocent enough until he’s arrested for the murder of his social skills tutor Jess. His single mum Emma has to work even harder than she has before, to get the legal system to accept his Asperger Syndrome, and for it to adapt to some of Jacob’s needs.

Throughout the book we don’t know what really happened that day with Jess, though my guess came close enough. Knowing the truth is not the only important thing, however, as it’s the outcome of Jacob’s trial which matters.

There are chapters seen from the points of view of all the main characters, i e Emma and Jacob and Theo, but also the police officer who arrests Jacob and Jacob’s lawyer. This gives interesting insight into how people think, but also deals with how the reader knows what some of them don’t. Knowing that Jodi may well not end her story happily, I was prepared for just about anything.

Even if you don’t care about the aspie angle, this is a compulsive read. If you do, it’s even more so, and it will bring back any bad experiences you may have had yourself, and then some. You may have struggled with your child’s school. Well, consider struggling with the law over murder instead.

This is an American tale of being on the autistic spectrum, with access to any number of professionals (they may cost an arm and a leg, but they exist) and lots of advice about diet and medicines and supplements that can be taken. But for the most part it’s about a family that has Asperger Syndrome. Because it’s one for all, and all for one, even where there is only one aspie family member. That in itself is perhaps not so cut and dried in real life.

8 responses to “Jodi Picoult and autism

  1. I’ve had a Jodi Picoult book sitting on my shelf for ages but this post has given me the nudge I need to pick it up and read it.
    I remember reading an article on Picoult’s website about the research she did for one of her novels – visiting a prison where the death penalty is carried out – so I knew already that she researches her themes thoroughly.
    I’m attracted to books where I know the author has either had the experience or done the research to get the facts right. Stumbling across a statement in a novel that I know to be false ruins the whole story for me.
    I guess you probably felt the weight of Picoult’s research more than I would if I read this book because I don’t know too much about Asperger’s and wouldn’t recognise a textbook example.

  2. I could probably read all Jodi’s books, but I probably won’t, due to lack of time. But it’s good to know. Liz Kessler was enthusing over Jodi last year, or I wouldn’t have been too aware of her, to be honest. It’s what happens when you have your nose in younger books.

  3. I recently read this book and I honestly was tempted to put it down many times during the first part (if not throw it across the room). I have an autistic nephew and I was sooo mad at the police in the story and I saw how this could happen and I was just so frustrated on behalf of Jacob and his family!! I had a hard time getting through it, but after I finished the book, I realized that I had plowed through it, I had devoured every word and had loved every minute I spent with this family. It was the first book that I gave an A+ rating in 2010.

  4. Yes, well, all you have to do is imagine similar ‘conversations’ with school staff at one school after another. Obviously on a lesser scale than murder charges, but the ‘oh yes I’ve got a child like that too. It’s just normal’ can drive anyone round the bend.

  5. My son is autistic, and although he hasn’t got Asperger’s I loved Jodi’s book. I am glad she chose AS as her subject, as she is such a popular author and I am sure the book will be read by lots of people who know v. little about ASD, wouldn’t normally be interested in the subject, but will learn a lot from it, because, as you said, it is compulsive. So it will hopefully make some people more understanding and tolerant, than they would have been otherwise.

  6. Yes, hopefully Jodi will add a million or so people who can understand AS, which is a very good thing.

  7. I tried to read House Rules, but couldn’t get beyond half of the first chapter because Jacob seems more like the diagnostic criteria in the DSM and ICD than a living, breathing Aspie. That’s probably why it shocked me to learn that this author apparently has an Autistic family member.

  8. I know what you mean. It got more realistic further along, and the most interesting aspect was not so much the boy as his mother.

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