Review: ‘House Rules’ by Jodi Picoult

‘House Rules’ was a truly enlightening read; focused on both the everyday and extraordinary experiences of Jacob, a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome, Picoult takes an emotional journey into the literal and figurative trials of the Hunt family.

What was really engaging about this novel was its exploration of how we define disability, and how accepting modern society really is. Jacob’s murder trial proves how far we still have to go: although set in the USA, it is easily applicable to the wider world, and it is evident that we pick and choose what we see and what we ignore. The fight for an understanding of Jacob’s social problems defies the notion of a fair trial; he is perceived as guilty with or without his special needs catered for. With, and he’s seen as abnormal and capable of unpredictable actions; without, and he’s seen as shifty and unresponsive to social conventions. Picoult’s exploration of how Jacob’s mother, Emma, sees her beautiful boy, and newcomers like Oliver Bond and Rich Matson see Jacob, is fraught with tensions, which makes the reader balance between social and personal perceptions of ASD. The most touching part, however, is Theo’s: he really tears the reader in half, showing us a boy who craves stability and normality, and yet has given up his life for his brother. His role in the events leading up to the trial demonstrate the further complexities of ASD diagnoses: rules can reflect emotions…”Look out for your brother, he’s the only one you’ve got” and “Clean up your messes”. Practically, meet unreasonable and undeniable emotional connections.

What did bother me about the book was the need to pair Emma off to make her happy. Of course she deserved happiness and someone who loved and respected her incredibly difficult life, but I felt it interfered with Jacob, who was supposed to be the focus of the novel. Likewise, the title doesn’t seem to hugely represent the novel; these rules are brought in when convenient, rather than running throughout the background of the novel.

Nonetheless, this is a haunting novel which truly makes you consider and evaluate just how accepting your attitude towards those who are, even slightly, different is. At the root of it, this is what ‘House Rules’ is about: how far do the rules of society ruin our ability to adapt to the unknown and previously unencountered?

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