March 24, 2010

House Rules by Jodi Picoult - How Did She Get Inside My Head?

What This Book is About
 Since The Boy was officially diagnosed with an Autism disorder in 2004 or so, I am always looking for more information about Autism...or Pervasive Developmental Disorder...or Asperger's Syndrome - all diagnoses the boy has been labeled with over the past several years.

In all my reading, not once did I consider reading a non-fiction work about autism - I wanted facts, ya know?

Then I got my hands on House Rules, by Jodi Picoult.

It tells the story of Emma Hunt, a single parent of two children, Jacob and Theo, and of the struggles she faces as she deals with Jacob, her 18-year old son with Asperger's.

The author must have spent lots of time interviewing parents, doctors, and even autistic kids themselves - she nailed it.

The meltdowns. The accommodations made my school and family to make Jacob feel more comfortable in his own skin. The tippy-toe dance the family makes around Jacob to keep him from having one more meltdown. Even Theo feels like the older brother, always having to sacrifice and make changes in his day for his brother...and boy, does he resent it. He rebels, in bigger and bigger ways, as the story progresses.

Jacob's special "interest" (really, obsession) is criminal forensics. He sets up fake crime scenes in the home, complete with food coloring and corn syrup blood. He watches episodes of Crimebusters religiously - all activity must end at 4:30, so he doesn't miss yet another repeat of another episode.

He could get a job as a CSI - he knows more about some investigative procedures than the police.

The turning point in the story comes when Jacob's social skills tutor turns up missing - and Jacob's appointment is the last thing in her date book.

Jacob is arrested for homicide, and enters the non-TV world of crime scene and criminal investigation, and court - but this time, as a suspect.

How This Book Made Me Feel 
I don't remember the last book that made me feel like I was living the story - no wait, I AM living this story, but on a misdemeanor level, rather than on the felony/homicide level.

  • Asperger's child - check 
  • Arrest of said child - check, times three 
  • The inability of the police/court to understand anything about autism - check, and check (until we had our last court appearance back in January - thank you, Public Defender Woman!) 
House Rules made me laugh. Having a child who is so literal can be a fun fest, ya know. The little habits and rituals? I can relate. It made me think of some of the silly stuff The Boy has done, and the jokes he's told. I thought of June 19ths in the past, when we'd celebrate Garfield the cat's birthday with lasagna and cake.

House Rules made me nervous. It reminded me of scads of meltdowns and other day-to-day challenges that I've locked away in my brain, because if I remembered it all, I'd either be the one locked up, or I'd be forever in a fetal position in bed.

House Rules made me incredibly sad, for opportunities lost by Emma to have a rich and fulfilling life outside of Jacob, for the cruelty displayed by schoolmates - and for the frustration in the judicial system (been there, done that).

House Rules made me feel validated, in some sense. I kept saying "yes" in my head, or nodding in agreement as I read along - here was someone who "got" it; she explained so well how it feels to be a mother of a child like Jacob (or The Boy). She described the pain, and yes, the joy involved in parenting such a special child. Emma Hunt was her child's number one fan and advocate - which can be a very lonely place to be. 

What This Book Made Me Think About

Theo, the "normal" child, felt left out, singled out, and just plain resentful of his brother, and the way family life revolved around Jacob. I kept thinking I need to ask Shannon and Erin if they felt that The Boy's behavior ever made them feel left out or resentful. 

I'm thinking not - they were out of the house before THAT fun began...unless you count Erin's wedding...or the shortened visits to Shannon and family (two hours was The Boy's limit - any more time than that, and he was out sitting in the car, waiting to leave).

I guess I need to ask them that, after all.

The story unfolds in short chapters detailing single events - first, you might read Emma's take on what just happened; then Jacob's; then Theo's. Once I got used to that format, I liked it a lot. I looked forward to reading how Jacob interpreted a situation - yet had questions in my mind if that's what an autistic child really thinks.

I guess I need to ask The Boy some questions, too. 

Anyway, I'd recommend House Rules if you have a curiosity about Autism, and about the day-to-day adventures that are inherent when parenting an Autistic child. Or if you're interested in forensic science - I learned stuff about fingerprint analysis, blood splatter, and overall investigative techniques.

I'll be sure to nail the person who eats the last of the fudge brownies - like there was any doubt who THAT would be! 


  1. This is the first book I want when I decide which e-reader I'm getting. I have to say that it was the girl on ANTM a few years back that made me read "Look me in the Eye" which helped me to understand the levels of autism a little more. I have a child that deals with severe Social Anxieties, and while it is nowhere near Autism, she is also, often misunderstood. Thanks for sharing your feelings on this book, and your insight into living with someone with autism.

  2. I loved this post just because I felt really connected to you while I was reading it. It has to have been a tough journey.

  3. I love Jodi Picoult! She always nails every book on the head. I have 2 nephews who have Asperger's and they are definitely a challenge and you are right. Getting people to understand is impossible.

  4. I'm glad to hear she got it right. I usually read her books, but I will read this one with a special interest because of my "knowing" you.

  5. I absolutely LOVE Jodi Picoult! She writes the most amazing stories! Now I can't wait to read this book, get a slight glimpse of your life!

  6. I am definitely reading this!! Thank you!!

  7. My son has Aspergers so I was worried about reading this book. Jenners pointed me in your direction and it is great to read that Picoult has accurately portrayed the Aspergers character. I'm going to try to find a copy now.


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