House Rules – Jodi Picoult – 7/10

“Motherhood is a Sisyphean task. You finish sewing one seam shut, and another rips open. I have come to believe that this life I’m wearing will never really fit.”

house rules

Jacob has Asperger’s. His little brother Theo doesn’t. Their mother Emma is struggling to keep the three of them on the same track. When Jacob’s fascination with sleuthing makes him the prime suspect in a murder case, it all could go horribly wrong…

So the vehicle is a standard Picoult 5 door hatchback… family drama against legal proceedings, secrets being kept within the family that would really make everything a lot easier if they were out in the open. Feel free to say it’s easy-to-read writing, but it’s so moreish.

As with all of Picoult’s books, there is a particular personality/mental health aspect being explored here. I’m not in a position to say that the representation of Asperger’s, including what life is like with a son or brother who has Asperger’s, is authentic, but it is thoroughly and sympathetically conveyed. Different aspects are explored – the triggers (sensory overload, changes to routines), the outcomes (tantrums, violence, getting more difficult to manage as the person gets older), and the often-forgotten positives (helpful, sweet, funny, devoted, lives by the rules, including “look out for your brother, he’s the only one you’ve got”). 

And, as with all of Picoult’s books, there is at the heart of the book a dilemma about family life. In others of hers which I’ve enjoyed, there has been forgiveness, trying to help someone through depression, using one child to save another. Here it is Emma’s two faces – doling out advice, including parenting advice, for an agony aunt column, while feeling like she can’t manage at home any more. She can’t control her son physically. A more general question: where are all the adults with Asperger’s? In this, the father has a dash of it himself and ran away from the confronting reality of his son.

Younger brother Theo is one of the most complex characters I’ve encountered to date in a Picoult novel. Resentful that his plans always get shelved because of some drama with Jacob, hormonally pubescent, feeling abandoned by his unknown father, he’s several shades darker than most side characters. I would have liked to see a few more chapters from his perspective. Our template lawyer Oliver is young, inexperienced, heart in the right place – a typical Picoult litigator. Emotional angst with the client – again standard. But sweet and funny. And critically – sympathetic to the Asperger’s angle. Somewhat like the lawyer in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker (one of my favourite books).

Of course, almost in the background, there’s a murder investigation. I worked out how the “murder” had been committed, and also how the assault fitted into the picture quite early on, but the suspense became about whether Jacob would totally incriminate himself, the damage to Theo, and the ongoing economic difficulties of the Hunt family.

Another perfectly satisfactory cocktail of drama from the Picoult production line.

Additional information:

Copy borrowed from Mini-Me
Publisher: Hodder, 640 paperback pages 
Order House Rulesfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
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