Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review of House Rules by Jodi Picoult

From Winnipeg Free Press --

Picoult page-turner about autism takes breath away --

By: Anne Katz --
3/04/2010 --

Jodi Picoult's new novel will demand your undivided attention.

House Rules
By Jodi Picoult
Simon & Schuster, 557 pages, $32

American commercial novelist Jodi Picoult is a prodigious writer, with almost a book a year since 1992.

She is immensely popular; her last three debuted in first place on the New York Times bestseller list; and this one has already made No. 1 on McNally Robinson's Winnipeg list.

Three of her novels (The Pact, Plain Truth and The Tenth Circle) have been made into TV movies and one (My Sister's Keeper) made it to the big screen with Cameron Diaz in the lead role.

Her books usually focus on a family with a big issue -- a child with a rare and devastating illness -- and involve a court case involved where one parent tries desperately to find a solution to the problem and the other parent is opposed to this strategy.

In House Rules, Picoult tackles the topical issue of autism spectrum disorder by telling the story of an 18-year-old man with Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism.

This is a big book, and a real page turner. While Picoult counts women as her fan base, this novel will appeal to men as well.

It is the ideal read as cottage season starts. But be careful, you won't be cleaning and organizing once you read the first page.

Jacob lives with his mother Emma, who has given up pretty much her whole life, including her husband who couldn't cope with the demands of this brilliant but extremely challenging child.

Emma has a younger son, Theo, who at 16 is profoundly affected by the accommodations they all have to make to live with Jacob.

Emma has a set of house rules that she expects her sons to abide by: clean up your own messes; tell the truth; and take care of your brother because he's the only one you've got.

One of Jacob's eccentricities is that he is extremely literal with no ability to grasp nuance or subtlety, and these three rules which he abides by almost slavishly form the focus of the story.

A young woman who tutors Jacob in social skills goes missing, and this small family is drawn into a maelstrom when her body is found and Jacob is charged with her murder.

He has all the signs of guilt -- an inability to look one in the eye, as well as an obsessive interest in forensic science and crime scene re-enactments. Was he involved in some way in her death?

Picoult tells the story through the voices of Emma, Jacob (who has an appealingly wry sense of humour), Theo, a police officer investigating the case, and the young, likely unqualified, lawyer Emma hires. Their voices are clear and distinct and the story moves along at a fast pace.

Like all Picoult's novels, House Rules is well-researched and she provides an intimate and detailed understanding of the issue at hand.

In this case, we learn about autism spectrum disorder and the fascinating presentation of Asperger's Syndrome. We also see a vivid example of the deep love parents hold for their children in all their perfection and with all their flaws.

Picoult provides the prerequisite court case and a twist at the end that some readers will see coming. But for those who don't, it may take your breath away for an instant.

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