Jodi Picoult is not a writer who deals in the ordinary. She goes for the big topics and handles them smoothly and with expertise. In the past she has written novels that deal with a child with brittle bones, a child who is an organ donor for an older sibling, and a shooter in a Columbine type setting. With her latest novel House Rules she sets her sights on Asperger's Disease and creates a character who suffers from this disability.
Jacob Hunt is the name of the character she creates who has been diagnosed with Asperger's. He is eighteen and lives at home with his mother Emma and younger brother Theo. His father Henry left when his brother was a baby and when Jacob's Asperger's blossomed into full force. Henry's only contact with the family has basically been through his monthly checks.
Things are tough enough for Jacob in just coping with the day to day problems caused by his condition. Then his life gets really complicated when he is charged with murder. What happens after that makes up the heart of Picoult's story and nothing more should be revealed n advance lest it rob the reader of the impact of all that occurs.
Most writers write from their hearts or from their brains but not Jodi. She writes from her gut. Her stories are told viscerally and they plunge into our minds and haunt our thoughts. As a rule she introduces a variety of characters in her books and then uses them to be the voices of the story. In House Rules she has chapters from Jacob, Emma and Theo as would be expected. She also has chapters from Rich, the arresting officer, and Oliver, the lawyer who defends Jacob.
These chapters allow the readers to get inside the heads of the characters who are most important to the story. Because of Picoult's writing skills you get an individual voice from each one. They each have different insights and different views. Sometimes the views and opinions are in conflict with those of one of the other lead characters.
Obviously Picoult has done a massive amount of research on the subject of Asperger's as the book is full of details and illustrations about the condition. Another testament to her writing skills is her ability to incorporate information of this type into the story without bogging it down. When we read Jacob's thoughts we get a look at what the world of a person with Asperger's is like.
Picoult also gives insight as to what it is like to be the parent of a child with Asperger's, and more hauntingly what it is like to be the sibling of a person with Asperger's. She doesn't pull any punches when she lets Theo rage about the burdens he feels as Jacob's brother.
Based on all the information that is contained in the story you might think the book would be a tedious read. It isn't. It reads like a thriller with a courtroom setting. The reader turns through the pages as quickly as possible because the ending is always up for grabs.
Jodi Picoult does not wrap up all the loose ends in this story. Some outcomes are left to the imagination. Usually this is a cheap cop out for a writer who just doesn't know where it will all end, but in this case it is a necessity for the full satisfaction of the story.
House Rules is the name of this story and it is an applicable one. Still in the world of truly great writing it is Jodi Picoult who rules!
House Rules is published by Atria Books. It contains 532 pages and sells for $28.00.
Jackie K. Cooper - www.jackiekcooper.com
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