Book Review: House Rules, by Jodi Picoult

As an avid reader and Jodi Picoult fan, I opened her latest novel – House Rules, expecting to be wowed. While I wasn't bowled over by the turn of events, I was not let down either. Jodi's insight into the world of Asperger's and the familial emotions tied to Jacob (a boy with autism) gave me much to think about. And, as always, with a Picoult novel, I had to ask myself – what would I do?

The premise is this: Emma, a single mother, is working hard to raise two boys. Jacob, her oldest, has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a condition that she has fitted her life around. Theo, her youngest, is striving to be a "normal" child with a "normal" family in a home that is anything but "normal." In order to survive in this household, Emma has instituted rules for the boys to live by; rules, that by all accounts, are inherent to a non-autistic household.

While Theo strikes out against the conformity of his mother's rules – never truly breaking them, but bending them to his will, Emma holds tight to Jacob and her ideals as a parent. Keeping Jacob's meltdowns to a minimum has always been a priority, even when it means pushing aside Theo's needs or her own. Meanwhile Jacob becomes more enthralled with the world of forensic science, an odd but worthwhile subject for him to study, memorize, and recreate.

Then the unthinkable happens. Jacob's tutor is found dead. All clues – however bizarre – point to Jacob. Because he is unable to cope with social situations, is known to have meltdowns, and cannot always communicate effectively, he is the accused. Admittedly, he was the last to see her, he did argue with her, and he did "arrange" the evidence and document it.

But who did, in fact, kill Jessica? If a person on trial cannot look you in the eye are they guilty? If they fidget? If they do not cry? And, if I were Jacob's mom, what would I do?

This book is enthralling to the end. A wonderful tale of loyalty, insight into a condition that I otherwise would not have understood, and the undeniable love of a family.

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