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.