Jodi Picoult, who writes about ripped-from-the-headline topics such as teen suicide, mercy killing, domestic abuse, teenage violence, and mercy killing, now tackles autism. Recently Reviewed Handle with Care, May/June 2009; Nineteen Minutes, Selection May/June 2007. See our profile on Picoult in our May/June 2009 issue.
The Story: Eighteen-year-old Jacob Hunt's Asperger's syndrome affects every part of his life--from the "color" of the day (and the color of the food he'll eat) to his hopeless social skills. Smitten with forensic science, Jacob regularly turns up at crime scenes and advises the police. But when Jacob's social-skills tutor is murdered, Jacob--who can't look people straight in the eye--becomes a suspect, and a courtroom drama builds. Told in the voices of Jacob; his overlooked younger brother Theo; his single mother, Emma; a naïve attorney; and a sympathetic detective, House Rules examines social difference and its effects on a family and community.
Atria. 532 pages. $28. ISBN: 9780743296434
"[T]o grasp on a gut level the emotional texture of what it's like to live with Asperger's syndrome (the highest-functioning form of autism) or to love a family member who has it, you need to read [House Rules]. ... Picoult doesn't whitewash the fact that Jacob experiences the world differently. Not an easy task--and one of the reasons House Rules ranks among her best." Deirdre Donahue
"Throughout the long unfolding of House Rules, Picoult keeps so many storyline streamers whirling in the air that it would be easy just to praise her technical mastery. ... Picoult's superb novel makes us inhabit Jacob's solitude and abide his yearning." Maureen Corrigan
"[T]he beauty of Picoult's book, as in most of her topical bestsellers, is that it brings to vivid life not just Jacob's condition, but the impact it has on those around him. ... The requisite romantic entanglement is just a little too cute and convenient." Karen Campbell
"This shifting point of view creates a compelling read, though the characters' revelations and thoughts may lead readers to foresee how the trial will end. ... Picoult's portrait of Jacob is successful--but is it really likely that a person with Asperger's could be articulate enough to narrate his own world?" Christine Ma
"Jodi Picoult loses points for ruining what could have been a riveting mystery by [revealing too much too soon]. ... The author has delivered a sweet family drama that doubles as a handbook on Asperger's--not exactly a thrill, but hardly a bad thing." Kate Ward
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Picoult stumbles trying to mesh her multiple story lines, forcing contrived connections among disparate personalities. ... House Rules amounts to another best seller, but a lesser story, one that is overstuffed and overwrought." Sue Emmons
Picoult has a formula, and it usually succeeds. As in her other novels, Picoult tells Jacob's story from multiple perspectives, weaves together complex subplots, and builds suspense in a final courtroom drama. Although House Rules fits into her general schemata, critics diverged somewhat in their reviews. Most praised Picoult's handling of character and grasp on what, exactly, daily life looks like for those suffering from Asperger's. A few, however, cited forced subplots and a predictable conclusion, which diminished their enthusiasm for this whodunit. But Picoult's superb, compassionate portrayal of Jacob will keep most readers engaged the whole way through--even as they struggle to overlook the author's formulaic storytelling.