Monday, July 26, 2010

Jodi Picoult Rules! A book review of House Rules

If I were trapped on a desert island and could only bring books by one fiction writer, I would choose JP. This is the fifth or sixth book that I've read by her, and she never fails to deliver. In fact, I think this is one of her best books yet.

House Rules is the story of Emma, a single mother whose husband walked out on her because he couldn't handle dealing with her then three-year-old son, Jacob, who had just been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. She also had a baby by the name of Theo.

As the story unfolds, Jacob is now 18. He does well academically -- he's nearly a genius -- but is incapable of forming social relationships because his brain isn't wired that way. So, Emma hires a social tutor for him by the name of Jess. Jess has a less than ideal boyfriend, who is often possessive, jealous and sometimes abusive. One day, Jess is murdered and Jacob, a crime buff, is charged with killing her.

As always, Picoult likes to delve into complicated legal issues, and there is a drawn-out trial, with an interesting relationship emerging between Emma and her young lawyer. Since my background is in psychology and social work, I love the fact that Picoult takes complex and pertinent social issues and weaves intricate, beautiful and heartwarming stories about them. We feel for these characters as though we know them, especially Jacob who wants so much to fit in but can't: wants to communicate but fails hopelessly. At the same time, we empathize with Theo, the forgotten child, and Emma, the one who has to do it all by herself -- superhuman mom. Picoult never fails to let us know that when one person is ill or off-balance in the family, the whole family unit is thrown off kilter.

However, this book is too long and could be cut by about 50 to 100 pages. She repeated so much about Asperger's and autism that I could have recited it verbatim myself (and yet I am no authority -- I don't know if this is really the way Asp kids are). I also felt that more attention and emotion could've been devoted to the crime victim instead of all of the attention being on the aforementioned family. Otherwise, as usual, a fantastic read and highly recommended.

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