Wednesday, August 19, 2015

House Rules by Jodi Picoult


Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. He's hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject -- in his case, forensic analysis. He's always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do...and he's usually right. But then his town is rocked by a terrible murder and, for a change, the police come to Jacob with questions. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger's -- not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, flat affect -- can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob and his family, who only want to fit in, feel the spotlight shining directly on them. For his mother, Emma, it's a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it's another indication of why nothing is normal because of Jacob. And over this small family the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?

My take: 3 looks

The cover of this book is very deceiving in that the boy on the cover is NOT the main character. As a matter of fact, the boy on the cover doesn't even make an appearance in the book. Jacob is eighteen years old, over 6 ft tall, and weighs 185 pounds. A formidable man. His younger brother is Theo, a 15-year-old on the cusp of getting his driving permit. The boy on the cover, I suppose is a red herring.

Emma is the mother of these two. Caught in the world of being a single parent to a special-needs child who doesn't look so special needs, and a "normal" teenager who is constantly bearing the brunt of broken promises, unmet expectations, and hurt feelings. All through no fault of his own.

The story is riveting, following the characters through their own chapters of first-person narration. As is usual for Picoult, the tale is timely and hard to put down. I found myself pulling for each character, even the hard-boiled police detective; Henry, the absentee father; and, Oliver, the fresh-from-school attorney Emma happens upon because he's open on Sunday.

The ending, however, leaves me in a quandary. Without giving away any spoilers, we find what happened to our victim, who is responsible, and ... well ... that's about it. There is no other resolution, no moving forward. It just kind of ends. Because this is not the first Picoult book I've read, I have to assume that this was a tactic that she chose intentionally, and have thought through how she intended this to add to the reading experience.

And that is why I am giving 3 looks instead of 4. Because I could not figure out what it was.


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