Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult ★★★★

House RulesConfession time: I had no intention of ever reading a Jodi Picoult book. To me, her books were pretty much equivalent to Nicholas Sparks' books.* Formula: Mix one part "issue" with one part "sap" and one part "luuuuuurve", then swallow. If nausea occurs, try Pepto to keep it down.
*Sparks' books are still ones that I have no intention of ever reading. I watched 'A Walk to Remember' and 'The Notebook'. That's enough for one lifetime. There's like 50 movies based on his books now or something, and you know they're scraping the bottom of the barrel when Miley Cyrus is the best they can get to star act be filmed in one. *shudder*

So when this was chosen for my bookclub, I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, and prepared myself to be reticent at the next meeting.

Aside from that, I was worried about the portrayal of a teen with Asperger's Syndrome, particularly because the only other book that I've read with an autistic character was very disappointing for me. I couldn't help but mentally compare the two books, and my opinion of that other book was constantly reinforced: it just lacked substance, depth. It was just mediocre. House Rules was anything but mediocre. It was interesting, insightful, informative and fulfilling.

I'm no Asperger's expert, but I thought that the book worked on many different levels at portraying not only the thought processes and behaviors of one who has it, but also of everyone that is affected by it. I felt that Picoult did her homework, and that she presented the traits, and possible causality, fairly and honestly. There are perspectives on whether heredity, or immunizations, or just randomness cause autism to develop, and I liked and appreciated that it was not treated as an excuse to demonize vaccines.

I particularly empathized with Emma and Theo. Their perspectives were so raw and honest that I couldn't help but love them for it. Emma's raised two sons on her own for 15 years - something that is hard enough without throwing autism into the mix. Her whole life has centered around it. She's done everything in her power to give him the best life she can, and if she suffers for it, that's just part of the job.

There were points in Theo's chapters where he'd be thinking something that an outsider would think is horrible, and even berating himself for it, and I would just sit there commending him for the things he didn't say. For example:
"True confession number four: I don't sit around thinking about having kids, nor­mally, but when I do it scares the shit out of me. What if my own son winds up being like Jacob? I’ve already spent my whole childhood dealing with autism; I don’t know if I can handle doing it for the rest of my life."
This is a superficially selfish thought, yes, but then I read the subtext to be that he's assuming he'd be around to take care of any kid of his who has autism. He'd stick it out, not leave like his own father did. He'd try to do the right thing, even if he doubts his abilities to do it. It makes me proud of him, and sad for him, at the same time. Because he's lived on the sidelines of autism for his whole life already. His childhood was constantly colored by the routines and the contingencies and the chaos of his brother's condition. To never have "normality" would have to be a terrifying, daunting thought.

Regarding the mystery aspect, I pegged it pretty quickly - about 30% in. All the clues were there, and it wasn't hard to figure out. But I was still interested to see if I was right, or if there would be some twist, other than the one I predicted, to shock me. I kept being a little frustrated with the investigation too. This kid is extremely literal, and extremely honest. Why did nobody think to just ask him directly? I guess I understand why, honestly, but it was still kind of frustrating. And so for that, I knocked off a star. But the rest of the story, the personal and familial aspects, were fantastic. I loved it.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable book, and I will probably be picking up more of Picoult's books now that I know they aren't likely to be tapped for maple syrup anytime soon. ;)

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  1. I've read some Picoult books, and while I didn't vomit rainbows, I just normally have a hard time connecting with her characters. However, although I avoid her books, I'm not brandishing crucifixes at them, so I might someday pick this up!

  2. Glad your encounter with Picoult was better than you expected, she's a bit of a favourite of mine.

    If you're looking for something else about autism/aspergers try Mockingbird b Kathryn Erskien, it's a very good and believable portrayal.

  3. I thought The Tenth Circle was interesting.

  4. I love Jodi Picoult's books - they are well researched and highly entertaining. Have read a number of them now and will continue to do so.

  5. I was annoyed with the same thing: why the hell nobody asked him directly?!