House Rules
by Jodi Picoult
(Atria, $28.00, NV) ISBN 0-7432-9643-4
*****
Asperger Syndrome is a “developmental disorder that affects the way information is processed in the brain…people are often very intelligent and very competent – in this, they differ from profoundly autistic children who can’t communicate at all – but they have crippling disabilities in the area of social interaction.”

This story focuses on 18 year old Jacob Hunt, with an IQ of 162, who is afflicted with Asperger Syndrome. His younger brother Theo is, in many aspects, his caretaker as well as their mother Emma.  Picoult has chosen to tell this story in short chapters form five different points of view. As the plot evolves through these voices, gradually Rich, the detective, and Oliver, an attorney, complete the five.

Almost at the moment of diagnosis, Emma’s husband Henry deserted the family and moved to California, about as far away as he could get from their small Vermont town. Emma makes her living as “Auntie Em” an advice giver in the local newspaper, being careful to arrange her life so she can provide the caregivers, and medical and emotional support for Jacob. His life is characterized by tantrums or meltdowns when events pushed him past his ability to cope. His schooling evolved around his own IEP (Individual Educational Program) and Emma hired Jess Oglivie a University student to work with him on his social skills. These embraced such things as learning to associate people’s facial expressions with their moods.

Jacob has passions; as a child it was dogs and dinosaurs, as a teenager he had become obsessed with forensic science as it pertained to the solving of crimes. With his police scanner he met Rich when he appeared on the scene of a dead jogger. It was Jacob who pointed out it was death by hypothermia rather than homicide or suicide. He thus became a young man who was “a little weird” in the eyes of the detective.

Jacob meets with Jess for his usual tutoring session one day and her boyfriend is with her. An argument erupts, the boyfriend storms out and Jess is heard telling Jacob to get lost as well. The next week her boyfriend reports her missing and she is later found dead with Jacob’s quilt wrapped around her. Jacob is charged with murder and Oliver hired as his attorney. The story matures as a murder mystery, explicit in the provisions of the American Disabilities Act, as it pertains to police and trial procedure.

The result is a book that is truly compelling, heartwarming, and exhaustively researched. The ability to create all of the characters with such depth, merely by moving a very complicated plot along by changing points of view is a marvel. Anyone who has parented a teenage boy will also recognize just how in tune the dialog is, as the scene changes progress effortlessly.

This may not be a novel one will ever read again for the simple reason that it will be almost impossible to forget the Hunt Family and their House Rules – the two principle ones are 1. “Clean up your own mess” and 2. “Take care of your brother, he is the only one you have” and how this changed so many lives.

--Thea Davis


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