Book Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult
Updated: Jun 6
House Rules by Jodi Picoult, published in 2010 in America
The story is told from multiple characters' point of view. It is divided into short chapters, and each chapter is seen through the eyes of one of the characters.
The story's central character is arguably Jacob, a teenager with Aspergers syndrome who has a special interest in forensic science. As the plot develops he is framed as having murdered his good friend who his mother is paying for him to socialise with, (and on whom he has a crush). The second most significant character is Jacob's sacrificial, loving mother who works at least two jobs to support her sons and has convictions about the association of Jacob's ASD and his MMR vaccine.
Jodi does a fantastic job of unpacking the condition of ASD and what that means for the people close to Jacob. She doesn't simply describe traits but allows the reader to scrutinise for themselves what it means to have the condition and whether this drives his personality of whether he has glimmers of empathy . You feel empathy to nearly all the characters, especially Jacob's hard-working mother who's first husband left her when he couldn't deal with having a son with ASD and with Jacob. You are endeared to Jacob because he is portrayed as a rule-abider with non-malicious intentions. He knows he is innocent but can't seem to make anyone around him understand. His understanding of key information is so different to people without the condition that it's implied for almost the duration of the story that he is the culprit, only at the penultimate chapter are further ingredients revealed. From a reader's perspective is more than a little dissatisfying at the end, what you want is a big revelation scene with exposure to all the final facts, but one must remember it's not supposed to be a whodunnit.
The story explores how society responds to people who are different and whether we should expect them to play by the same rules. It is interesting that the adults around him assume that he will be totally mis-represented and misunderstood in court, due to his different communication style. They want to protect him and are sure he will have a more severe consequence in court if he is allowed to simply tell his version of events. So because of these assumptions, Jacob's true version of events is ignored until the very end.
I think I have read two others; The Pact and Plain Truth, both of which I enjoyed much more than House Rules. However, I would gladly read another Jodi Picoult.