Jacob Hunt is an eighteen-year-old boy who has Asperger’s syndrome. When his tutor is murdered, the police turn first to her boyfriend, and then to Jacob, for questioning. Because of Jacob’s lack of emotion and inability to understand social cues, he begins to look very guilty very fast. Jacob’s mom, Emma, has spent her entire life catering to his every need, shaping the lives of herself and her younger son, Theo, around Jacob’s, so she hires a young attorney to defend him in court – an attorney who has exactly zero experience with murder trials or Asperger’s. As is typical for a Jodi Picoult novel, the story is told by several of the characters, giving the reader to get a chance to understand this story from each individual point of view, and making for a solid story-telling experience.
I’ve read everything Jodi Picoult has written (one of only a few authors I’ve been able to accomplish that with), and some of her books I’ve loved, others I’ve hated, still others I’ve been indifferent toward. Recently, I have been annoyed with the way her books have become a bit formulaic and too “comfortable” for my tastes. But with House Rules, I think she’s back to what I loved about her originally – great characters, an interesting story that keeps me turning pages, and an unexpected resolution.
I have not personally known someone with Asperger’s syndrome (at least, not that I know of), but from what I’ve read about Asperger’s, I think that Picoult did a good job with Jacob. He was a believable character, and more than believable, he was likeable. Picoult definitely set up the story to make Jacob look guilty, and even when Jacob would narrate the story, I was still unsure of his innocence, even though I wanted to believe he didn’t do it. I also enjoyed reading from Emma’s point of view, I liked her as a character too, even though I got a bit frustrated her when she displayed obvious neglect toward her younger son, Theo. She wrapped her entire life around Jacob, asking Theo to do the same, and didn’t allow Theo to grow up like a “normal” kid because of that. Speaking of Theo, I had the most sympathy for him out of all these characters. He was only fifteen, yet had this huge burden on his shoulders – to protect his brother, to love him even when he was most unlovable, and to shape his entire life around the whims of his older brother. Not many fifteen-year-olds would want to do this, and even though Theo had no choice in the matter, I definitely felt for him.
The book was a little long for my tastes, but it was definitely satisfying. I could have dealt without the love story, and I didn’t love what happened with the boys’ father (I just think it could have been handled differently), but in the end, I really enjoyed the novel. The ending was solid, with a “twist” of sorts, but one that made perfect sense to the rest of the story.
If you have read and enjoyed any of Picoult’s other novels, this is a must-read. And if you’ve always been meaning to read something by her, definitely check this one out. I think it’s one of her better books.