House Rules: A Novel

In House Rules, Jodi Picoult explores the complex world of Emma Hunt, who is almost entirely focused on helping her eighteen-year-old son, Jacob, learn to communicate appropriately with his family and peers. This is a difficult task, considering the fact that Jacob has Asperger's syndrome, a disorder characterized by a compulsive attachment to order and routine, a tendency to take comments literally, hypersensitivity to bright lights, human touch, and scratchy fabrics, a reluctance to make eye contact, lack of empathy, painful bluntness, and difficulty relating to others. Emma's life is complicated by the fact that her husband, Henry, left shortly after their younger son, Theo, was born. Fifteen-year-old Theo deeply resents the amount of time and money that his mother spents on his older brother.

The author of this book (published on March 2, 2010), effectively conveys the anguish of a single parent who invests almost all of her energy trying to give her son a chance to enjoy a fulfilling life. But the price that she pays is steep, not just financially, but emotionally. Emma has few pleasures, no vacations, and no luxuries; her younger son must settle for whatever time and attention she can spare. Picoult's narrative device of allowing each character to convey his or her thoughts in alternating chapters works well. In spite of its length (over five hundred pages), the story moves along briskly and is helped immeasurably by sharply written dialogue and liberal doses of humor.

House Rules has lively courtroom theatrics and a dash of romance. Although the plot has gaping holes as well as a bit too much sermonizing, Picoult wisely avoid overdosing on melodrama and sentiment. She drives home a theme that is close to her heart: Family members may occasionally loathe one another, but it is well worth the effort to make peace. This is an engaging, entertaining, moving, and at times, eloquent work of fiction. In conclusion, House Rules looks at what it means to be different in our society, how autism affects a family, and how the legal system works well for people who communicate a certain way, and fails those who don't.


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