09 June 2011

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Brief Synopsis
This a novel about an 18 year old boy with Aspergers, Jacob, and his family. Jacob has a fascination with forensic science. He becomes involved in the crime scene of his tutor, Jessica, who was allegedly murdered. Jacob is then put on trial for her murder. The story follows how Jacob's Aspergers affects his ability to operate within the court system. 

Thoughts and Reflections
I did not enjoy this novel, to be honest, for a few reasons. My annoyance with the novel began early on. At first the novel seemed an exact copy of another book, The Curious Incident,of a Dog in the Nighttime, which I had read last year (but which was written long before this one). Then it became a strange blend of that book and something by John Grisham. 

The novel is written in short sections in the perspective of various characters. Jacob, the protagonist, is very convincing as a young man with Aspergers from the perspective of the other characters, his mother, brother, a police officer, and his lawyer. However, from his own perspective, he is full of contradictions and unconvincing. Jacob isn't a savant, but he is high functioning with a high IQ. To be honest, this seems cliche. I would be interested to read a novel about a special needs child who has no special talents, who isn't a genius, but, perhaps that doesn't make a best seller. 

As for the plot, I found it predicable. The epiphany of the reader occurs long before the actual reveal at the end of the novel. I wondered if this was the intention of the author, that the point was not to discover the truth, but experience the court system through the experience of a child on the autism spectrum. However, if this were the case, it was still a bit drawn out. Also, it dissolved the climax at the end of the novel.

There were a few interesting points in the novel, however. For one, the frustration of the mother, who is trying to defend her child, but is not able to do so. The court system was not in the least conducive for a disabled child. The mother had to continually fight to have the justice system acknowledge and respond to the special needs of her son. A point that is repeatedly emphasised is that the mother has worked hard the entire life of her son to not have him labeled as autistic. However, during this book, her only hope is to peg everything on this. That is quite a dilemma for a mother, I imagine. 

Another interesting point was the importance of communication. Jacob does not communicate in the same was as other people. He is simply unable to do so. He takes things totally literally. As a result, questions need to be phrased in just the right way. His message is not sent, his words no heard, until the very end of the novel. I was frustrated that his guilt in the incident was assumed and that no one, not even his mother, took the time to ask him the right questions and find out what actually happened. I'm not sure if Jacob would have been able to tell them, though. He was caught in the moral dilemma between two rules: one, tell the truth, and two, take care of your brother. To do one was to undo the other. However, all of sudden at the end of the novel, during the reveal, the dilemma seems to disappear and he tells the truth. 

Finally, I didn't appreciate the ending. There are long standing issues within the family. The mother, due to the special needs of Jacob, is unable to provide adequate attention to her other son, Theo. I would have liked to see more development of this issue. Instead, the focus was continually on Jacob, relegating Theo as always to the background. Theo began lashing out in his own quiet way, which led up to the events bringing Jacob to court. At the end of the novel, however, everything is happy go-lucky. These family issues are suddenly resolved and the brothers bond and are connected like never before. Issues such as Theo's simply don't disappear in an afternoon. Furthermore, the novel does not consider the aftermath of the trial or the events leading up to the trial whatsoever. This family would be reeling from the information uncovered during the trial. Theo, a boy of 15, faces a brutal truth that his actions, however unwittingly, contributed to the death a young woman. The mother  is faced with the fact that her "normal" son was breaking into houses, not to do harm, just to wander around, in addition to the fact that she spend months believing her autistic son was a murderer. 

All in all, I would certainly have liked to see more development of these deeper issues, especially Theo's storyline and the aftermath of the events leading to Jacob's trial. The kitschy ending was definitely the icing on the cake. I admit, I was relieved to finish the novel. I'm glad to have read something by Jodi Picoult, but I don't believe I will venture into any other of her works unless I am specifically recommended something. 

Point of Interest
Asperger Syndrome is an a disorder on the autism spectrum that is characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. It differs from other disorders on the autism spectrum by its preservation of linguistic and cognitive development.

About the Author:
Jodi Picoult was born in 1966 on Long Island. She studied writing at Princeton University, graduating in 1987. She worked an assortment of odd jobs before going to Harvard University to complete a Master's degree in education. She was first published in 1992. In 2007, she wrote Wonder Woman comics for DCs Comics. House Rules was published in 2010. She currently lives with her husband and three children in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Things I Enjoyed About This Novel:
1. The discussion on the importance of good communication.
2. The discussion on the inability of the court system to respond to the specific needs of an individual.


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