House Rules – Jodi Picoult

Emma is a single mother with two children, Jacob the eldest at eighteen and Theo the youngest at fifteen. They have not had a normal childhood – Jacob has Asperger’s and his mother has devoted her life to making sure that Jacob was accepted into society. Theo remains in the shadow and has had to live the structure needed for Jacob simply by default.

To be accepted into society takes its hardest form when Jacob is arrested for murder. In contrast Theo becomes guilty by association.

Now it is time for Emma to fight even harder to make sure her son is treated fairly and that everyone understands the reasons behind his actions. The need for routine, how noise can be uncomfortable, telling the literal truth, the absorption of facts but not in context, the misunderstanding by what others are saying to name some of them, Emma has to deal with all these and more everyday. All these actions make people judge without knowing the reasoning behind them and when some of them all point to guilt, it seems that the Asperger’s is an excuse in the eyes of the prosecution.

But what if Emma is actually covering up the truth? Did Jacob really commit murder? And can a man who knows nothing about criminal law defend him successfully?

Written from the perspective of Emma, Jacob and Theo but also Rich, the detective who arrests Jacob and Oliver the lawyer, Jodi Picoult gives a spectrum of the story which can be seen from differing points of view. I thought it was a technique that worked very well and it drew me in quickly enough, and the short length of chapters from each character kept it moving.

This is a book where you learn, learn very fast about Asperger’s and how it can affect family dynamics and the knock on effect of a wider world. It also reflected how much of what we say we take for granted and understand immediately.

There are times when Jacob’s world makes a lot more sense to me [Theo] than the one the rest of us live in. Why do we ask people how they’re doing when we don’t give a crap about the answer? Is Mr Jennison asking me that question because he’s worried about me, or because it’s something to say to fill up the air between us? ‘I’m okay’, I say, because old habits die hard. If I were like Jacob, I would have answered directly: I can’t sleep at night. And sometimes, when I run too fast, I can’t breathe. 

You also learn about the court procedure and the defence and prosecution world as Jacob comes to trial. Can Jacob cope in such a different environment to the one he has been accustomed to?

This is an engaging book, which I had doubts about to begin with as it is the first Jodi Picoult I have ever read and so I had no idea what I was getting. And although I did guess the outcome, it was still very interesting to see how we got there. It made me think about the truth and also what we are taught as we grow up and how much is assumed knowledge that somehow gets passed on when without us realising. A good read.

This is the book for my next book group and I am so grateful to K for suggesting it. I would be the first to admit that I would never have picked the book up in the shop. Somehow I had got a preconceived idea of what Jodi Picoult novels were like; something to do with her being an American and it all coming across much too sentimental. Oh to be proved so wrong. 

It is a chunky book, and I thought I was going to struggle, but in less than a week it has been read and in plenty of time for book group. I am looking forward to the discussion. I have come to the book and looking at it from a crime genre novel perspective. Which I believe there is nothing wrong with but I think those who are mothers are probably bringing their own knowledge of that (i.e. being a mother) to the book and will see something that perhaps I do not. I certainly pick that up from some of the reviews on Amazon. I recognise all these comments as being valid and they made an interesting read after I had finished the book and I reflected some more.

There are some poignant and thought-provoking  points that Picoult makes through her characters, and were valid enough for me to mark, to share in a review.

…the human heart is just a simple shelf. There’s only so much you can pile onto it before something falls off an edge and you are left to pick up the pieces.

How many times has my mum done such a thing for me? Or I for someone else?

What did throw me to begin with, was the Case Studies which were interspersed throughout the book. I felt these were unneccessary, although I can see they were examples of forensic science at work they add nothing much to the overall story for me.

Jacob’s literal world fascinated me, and the example I give in my review above, always makes me think of the times I have bumped into someone I know whilst waiting in the doctor’s surgery….”Hello, how are you?”, “Great thanks”. A standard pat answer – if I am great then why I am waiting to see a doctor? It is one of life puzzles, and this book showed more examples. “…I tell Jacob I’ll be there in a minute and he starts counting down from sixty” or “…when I ask…How did you sleep? On my stomach”. How much do we say that is not literal and what would happen if we actually took everything literally?

I leave this book wondering? Will I pick up another Jodi Picoult in the future?

Book group meets next Monday and I will report back with how we get on!


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