Tuesday, 14 February 2012

House Rules

Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 532
First Published:
First Line: "Everywhere I look there are signs of a struggle."

Synopsis: Jacob is a teenage boy who has Asperger's Syndrome.  This means that he is unable to read social cues or to clearly express himself to others.  Although his AS symptoms hinder him socially they do not stop him from being brilliant in the field of forensic science.  He is infatuated with everything to do with forensics including listening to his police scanner, checking out real crime scenes and setting up fake crime scenes to see if his mom can figure out the crime.

It's due to his love of forensic science that the police come to question Jacob when someone in town is brutally murdered.  When Jacob is questioned by police who have no experience with Aspergers, Jacob's symptoms are interpreted as signs of guilt and remorse.  Suddenly, Jacob and his family are thrust into the media spotlight.  Although his family loves him, they can't help but wonder if Jacob is capable of committing murder.  

My ThoughtsPicoult is one of those authors who is known for writing books that focus on popular issues.  Her books are typically easy to read and are based around some sort of hot topic (and somehow usually end up in a court room).  She is skilled at writing from various viewpoints whether it's describing the feelings and internal dialogue of a 40 year old mother or a 15 year old teenage boy.

It's this ability to get inside the heads of her characters that made this book for me.  Picoult has written a fascinating look into the lives of a teenage boy with Asperger's Syndrome and how it affects not only his day-to-day life but the lives of his mother, Emma and younger brother, Theo.  We see how Emma struggles to mainstream Jacob and give him a full life but in the process leaves her younger son Theo to fend for himself most of the time. 

I do not want to make light of AS or its symptoms but if I'm being honest, the image that I kept getting while reading about the symptoms of this syndrome was .... Sheldon Cooper of "The Big Bang Theory".  I assume the the writers of that show wrote his character as a person with AS because he has so many of the symptoms (minimal eye contact, very smart, does not understand social cues, sarcasm, STRICTLY adheres to schedules and rules ....).  It was actually a little distracting for me (since I'm a huge fan of the show -- I love me my Sheldon!). 

Sheldon and Jacob both seem to have all of the symptoms of Aspergers.  I'm interested to find out if people with AS usually have all the symptoms or just a few.  Was Jacob (and Sheldon for that matter) written as a realistic portrayal of a person with AS??  It's something I plan to look into. 

Overall, I think Picoult managed to portray the struggles and strengths of AS with compassion and respect.  She also vividly described what it felt like to not only live with AS but what it feels like to have a family member with AS.  From younger brother, Theo's feelings of embarrassment and isolation, to his mother's all-consuming focus on trying to keep Jacob in the world outside himself.  All of the choices she made (as well as the things she gave up) in order to give her eldest son the best life possible (sadly, even to the detriment of her younger son).

One of the things that struck me about Jacob was the fact that he saw his AS as a benefit and not a disability.  He was completely happy with who he was.  I wasn't expecting that. 

Getting inside the head and family of an Asperger's teen was my favourite part of the book. The ensuing mystery and court case? Not so much. Even less so for the little romance that seemed to be thrown in at the last minute and didn't add to the overall story for me.  Honestly, I would have preferred learning more about AS.  It felt like the court case in the last half of the book bogged down the momentum of the book.  One simple question from Emma to Jacob ("Did you kill her?") could have resolved the whole court room drama.  It felt a little silly that the lawyer and mother (or even Theo) didn't come right out and just ask Jacob if he did it or not.

If I was asked what the weakest part of the book was it would have to be the ending.  It was predictable and surprisingly vague.  From almost the beginning I had guessed what was going to happen but I kept reading hoping that she'd throw some sort of cool twist.  Sadly there was no twist.

Despite this being yet another Picoult read that ends in a court room, I did enjoy this read and walked away from this book feeling like I have a better understanding for AS as well as a respect for those that deal with the day-to-day issues and intolerance surrounding this syndrome.

Picoult's writing is strong and you can tell she researched AS but the overall feeling that I got from the book was a little let down.  The highlight of this book was learning more about AS.  I just wish the momentum and twists in the plot would have been more pronounced to carry the book to a great ending.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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