House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Full disclosure: I have a 16-year old son on the Autism spectrum, and an 11-year old daughter who meets 9 of the 10 criteria for being on the spectrum as well. That’s half of my four kids. We live with it every day, and at one time, when my son was first diagnosed, I read every fiction and non-fiction book out there on Autism, trying to find out as much as I could. But ultimately I stopped because each child with Autism is different. We knew by then what we could and could not do to help our kids, and they have the help of specialists both in school and out. House Rules was recommended to me by someone after I’d read a number of children’s fiction books about Autism, so I decided to give it a chance.

I liked the idea of House Rules because of Jodi Picoult’s attempt to raise awareness of Autism, but I don’t think it was done very well. My son’s social skills teacher warned me that the main character had every possible symptom, and she wasn’t kidding. Every quirk, obsession, tic and aspect of being socially awkward is portrayed in one character and that is simply not the case in real life. They say if you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism, because each person displays Autism differently.

My big beef was the fact that Picoult’s Autism research is based on a flawed study that’s been debunked as completely fraudulent and has been that way for ten years, at least as long as since the book came out. So now the casual reader who doesn’t know anything about Autism thinks these crazy things because they read about it in a fiction book. There are plenty of people out there who believe the discredited study, despite the fact that there have been hundreds of studies since then proving the theories of the first study are incorrect.

From the publisher:

“Jacob Hunt is a teen with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, though he is brilliant in many ways. But he has a special focus on one subject – forensic analysis. A police scanner in his room clues him in to crime scenes, and he’s always showing up and telling the cops what to do. And he’s usually right.

But when Jacob’s small hometown is rocked by a terrible murder, law enforcement comes to him. Jacob’s behaviors are hallmark Asperger’s, but they look a lot like guilt to the local police. Suddenly the Hunt family, who only want to fit in, are directly in the spotlight. For Jacob’s 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 why nothing is normal because of Jacob.”

As for the story, what’s with everyone not asking Jacob what really happened? Seriously. He explains that he set up the crime scene, but no one thinks to ask WHY he did that? As a parent, that’s what I would do. No one asks him what happened when he got to Jess’s house. No one. It would have made a much shorter book, true, but this book did not have to be 600 pages long..

Yet despite the fact that Picoult goes on for 600 pages, House Rules just ends. What a crummy ending, with still a lot left unanswered. I realize with Autism there are no easy endings, and maybe that was Picoult’s point, but it was the final piece of the book’s puzzle that left me unsatisfied.

There are plenty of good fiction books out there focusing on Autism, and in the future, I’ll highlight some of them. For now, I’d just like to say skip this book.

(Just a reminder I’m giving away a $10 Amazon eGift Card. Click here to read more and to enter!)

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One comment

  1. I totally agree with you that each autistic child is different and unique, and even in general each child is unique for many good and bad reasons. While reading about the ending of the book, I recollect that one of the Japanese method, if I am not mistaken, also to have a writing work that ends without answering many questions and I believe it is to challenge the reader and make their own ending…That would leave me also unsatisfied. I guess, writers are also unique in their approach 🙂


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