House Rules – Jodi Picoult

House Rules

Five words from the blurb: Asperger’s, trouble, police, murder, guilt

My eldest son has Asperger’s syndrome so I am always interested in books that deal with the subject. I was impressed by the research that has gone into this book, but I’m afraid the plot didn’t do much for me.

House Rules is the story of Jacob, an 18-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome, who has a special interest in forensic science. One day his tutor is found dead and Jacob becomes the prime suspect in the murder investigation. The book uses multiple narrators to show how those with autism have a different perspective on events, and also to highlight the thoughts off his mother and brother.

Jacob’s actions were realistic and tactfully described, but I was even more impressed by the descriptions of the emotions felt by his mother and younger brother, Theo. Some of the scenes were heartbreaking for me to read as they could easily relate to my family in ten years time (I also have a younger son without Asperger’s).

Motherhood is a Sisyphean task. You finish sewing one seam shut, and another rips open. I have come to believe that this life I’m wearing will never really fit.
I carry the bowl to the sink and swallow the tears that spring to the back of my throat. Oh, Theo. I’m so sorry.

Unfortunately I found that the plot wasn’t sustained over the 650 pages of this book. There was far too much padding and repetition of the problems faced by those with Asperger’s. Despite being engaged by all the characters in this book, I was bored by large chunks of it; the court room scenes were particularly dull.

The ending was quite clever, but I’m afraid it was too little, too late. The plot wasn’t complex enough to justify the length and the same message could easily have been achieved with half the number of pages.

I applaud Jodi Picoult for bringing autism to the attention of a wider audience, but I think this would work better as a (heavily edited) film.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

Although well-researched and presenting a detailed and gripping insight into the realities of life with Asperger’s syndrome, I felt the book was hampered by the legal plot. Life…With Books

The audio book made this story a home run for me. It was fantastic… Bibliophile by the Sea

Overall, this novel didn’t “wow” me, either as literature or as a believable portrayal of life with Asperger’s. But this author has a knack for storytelling and creating interesting characters… Laughing Stars


15 replies on “House Rules – Jodi Picoult”

I read (rather listened to) this one a while ago, but I do recall really enjoying this. I was especially interested in learning more about Asperger’s as I have a coworker who has shared many of the challenges her adult daughter faces daily.

I’ve always enjoyed this author, her stories are always controversial but agree often longer than need be.

Thanks for the shout-out Jackie.

Diane, I have only read My Sister’s Keeper and I really enjoyed that. I quite like the fact she tackles contraversial topics, but have heard that most of her books have a similar structure so haven’t been tempted to read them all yet. I’m sure I read another at some point 🙂

Piccoult has a formula she generally sticks to, but it sounds like maybe she strayed off her path a little for this one. I admired her taking on this topic (she is good about picking a unique one and exploring it 100%) but if any book spends too much time in the courtroom, they are going to lose me.

Sandy, Yes. Her court room scenes do get a bit repetitive. I wish she’d write a book without one 🙂 I’m afraid I haven’t read enough of her books to know if she’s strayed off her formula for this one, but I’m sure someone else will be able to let you know.

I can proudly say that I’ve never read a Jodi Picoult novel. Never ever ever, and I have no desire to ever do so. She’s one of those people who I think is always just looking for controversial things to write her books about, which is fine, I guess, except that I also find her really obnoxious in real life (she was really dead to me when she got involved in the brouhaha last year about why women’s books aren’t given the respect they deserve and acted like she was on par with people like Jonathan Franzen, which: NO.). So even if literally everyone in the world except for me loved a book by her, I would likely still not read it. Thankfully you just thought this book was mediocre so that I don’t have to even contemplate picking this one up!

Steph, I’m quite lucky (?!) that I have no idea what most authors are like in real life and so that doesn’t affect my reading habits. I saw a few links floating around twitter on the Franzen/Picoult debate, but I don’t really care about what they author is like – it is all down to the quality of their writing. I’m sure there are lots of authors out there who are really evil, but as long as they write engaging fiction I don’t care. There is no real reason why you should read Picoult though – I’m happy for you to avoid her 🙂

I’m glad to hear that you felt she “got it right” as far as Asperger’s. It would be a terrible disservice if she didn’t. I agree with you though that the plot could have used some attention and it was a little too long for its own good. If Picoult could just break out of her own self-imposed formula, she’d be a much better writer I think!

I was interested in reading this book because I’d like to learn more about Aspergers and I know that one thing Jodi Picoult usually does well is research her subject. But after reading your review I’m going to find a different book to read. It’s been a long time since I read anything by Picoult. I stopped reading her books because they got too long and rambling. Like many authors who become popular too fast her books lost what was good about them.

I used to quite enjoy Jodi Picoult’s books, but the last two I read were much as you described this one. I’d heard good things about this one, but I was still hesitant to pick this one up. Your review confirms that. I am glad to hear she did well with the Asberger’s aspects of the story.

nomadreader, I think the only other Picoult I want to read is Nineteen Minutes. I only read this one because of my special interest in the subject, but iffy reviews of her others have put me off. I don’t think she’ll ever match My Sister’s Keeper again.

I thought Nineteen Minutes was a great read – be warned, there are a lot of court scenes, but unlike in House Rules, they’re much more gripping and relevant to the plot. In House Rules I thought they got rather repetitive…

I have enjoyed a couple of Picoult’s books. The thing I like most about her writing is, as you said the in depth research in he books and the way she portrays the family members feelings. That is enough to attract me to her books although most of her books do drag.

I would probably read this one sometime.

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