Monday, January 24, 2022

House Rules



by Jodi Picoult
Published by Atria Books a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. New York

If you said, “Take a seat” to Jacob Hunt, he would pick it up and ask you where to take it. “Don’t move” to Jacob would leave him motionless until you told him otherwise. Tell Jacob to “get the picture” and he will want to know, “What picture?” Jacob Hunt is eighteen years old. At first glance he looks just like any other teenager. But look closer and you will notice no eye contact and his speech is in monotone, that is, right up until he has a tantrum over the color of his food that day. Jacob has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning neurological disorder in the autism family.

Jacob’s father has walked out shortly after he was diagnosed, leaving Jacob’s mother Emma, to be the rock that holds it all together. Emma is so preoccupied with Jacob’s problems that his younger brother, Theo, is left feeling angry and abandoned. Theo resorts to breaking into houses to get someone’s attention. Jacob is obsessed with forensics and crime scenes. When Jacob’s private social skills tutor is found dead, wrapped in one of Jacob’s quilts, he is arrested for first degree murder. For Jacob, missing his 4:30 p.m. TV show of Crime Busters is enough to make him have a meltdown of gigantic proportions. Emma knows that the possibility of life imprisonment will cause his condition to regress so far she may never reach him again. She has spent the last sixteen of Jacob’s eighteen years trying to get him and everyone else to accept him as “just quirky.”

His inexperienced young lawyer tells Emma that Jacob’s only chance of staying out of prison is to plead guilty by reason of insanity and play the Asperger’s card for all it’s worth. The question is, “Can a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome” commit such a violent crime? Although full of forensic dialogue and court room drama, the middle drags a little, and the conclusion seems  pretty obvious. However, due to Picoult’s way of slipping in surprises, you need to finish it to know for sure. The recurring theme is our inability to communicate with each other, regardless of our abilities or lack thereof. Picoult’s way of telling her stories, including this one, make us confront modern day issues head on. This book certainly contributes to the rising public awareness of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

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