When your son can’t look you in the eye...does that mean he’s guilty?
Jacob Hunt is a teen with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, though he is brilliant in many ways. He has a special focus on one subject—forensic analysis. A police scanner in his room clues him in to crime scenes, and he’s always showing up and telling the cops what to do. And he’s usually right.
But when Jacob’s small hometown is rocked by a terrible murder, law enforcement comes to him. Jacob’s behaviors are hallmark Asperger’s, but they look a lot like guilt to the local police. Suddenly the Hunt family, who only want to fit in, are thrust directly in the spotlight. For Jacob’s mother, it’s a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, it’s another indication why nothing is normal because of Jacob.
And for the frightened small town, the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?
House Rules is “a provocative story in which [Picoult] explores the pain of trying to comprehend the people we love—and reminds us that the truth often travels in disguise” (People).
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Hometown:Hanover, New Hampshire
Date of Birth:May 19, 1966
Place of Birth:Nesconset, Long Island, NY
Education:A.B. in Creative Writing, Princeton University; M.A. in Education, Harvard University
Read an Excerpt
House RulesA Novel
By Jodi Picoult
AtriaCopyright © 2010 Jodi Picoult All right reserved.
Everywhere I look, there are signs of a struggle. The mail has been scattered all over the kitchen floor; the stools are overturned. The phone has been knocked off its pedestal, its battery pack hanging loose from an umbilicus of wires. There's one single faint footprint at the threshold of the living room, pointing toward the dead body of my son, Jacob.
He is sprawled like a starfish in front of the fireplace. Blood covers his temple and his hands. For a moment, I can't move, can't breathe.
Suddenly, he sits up. "Mom," Jacob says, "you're not even trying."
This is not real, I remind myself, and I watch him lie back down in the exact same position-on his back, his legs twisted to the left.
"Um, there was a fight," I say.
Jacob's mouth barely moves. "And ...?"
"You were hit in the head." I get down on my knees, like he's told me to do a hundred times, and notice the crystal clock that usually sits on the mantel now peeking out from beneath the couch. I gingerly pick it up and see blood on the corner. With my pinkie, I touch the liquid and then taste it.
"Oh, Jacob, don't tell me you used up all my corn syrup again-"
I sink down on the couch, cradling the clock in my hands. "Robbers came in, and you fought them off." Jacob sits up and sighs. The food dye and corn syrup mixture has matted his dark hair; his eyes are shining, even though they won't meet mine. "Do you honestly believe I'd execute the same crime scene twice?"
He unfolds a fist, and for the first time I see a tuft of corn silk hair. Jacob's father is a towhead-or at least he was when he walked out on us fifteen years ago, leaving me with Jacob and Theo, his brand-new, blond baby brother.
"Theo killed you?"
"Seriously, Mom, a kindergartner could have solved this case," Jacob says, jumping to his feet. Fake blood drips down the side of his face, but he doesn't notice; when he is intensely focused on crime scene analysis,
I think a nuclear bomb could detonate beside him and he'd never flinch.
He walks toward the footprint at the edge of the carpet and points. Now, at second glance, I notice the waffle tread of the Vans skateboarding sneakers that Theo saved up to buy for months, and the latter half of the company logo-NS-burned into the rubber sole. "There was a confrontation in the kitchen," Jacob explains. "It ended with the phone being thrown in defense, and me being chased into the living room, where Theo clocked me."
At that, I have to smile a little. "Where did you hear that term?"
"CrimeBusters, episode forty-three."
"Well, just so you know-it means to punch someone. Not hit them with an actual clock."
Jacob blinks at me, expressionless. He lives in a literal world; it's one of the hallmarks of his diagnosis. Years ago, when we were moving to Vermont, he asked what it was like. Lots of green, I said, and rolling hills.
At that, he burst into tears. Won't they hurt us? he said.
"But what's the motive?" I ask, and on cue, Theo thunders down the stairs.
"Where's the freak?" he yells.
"Theo, you will not call your brother-"
"How about I stop calling him a freak when he stops stealing things out of my room?" I have instinctively stepped between him and his brother, although Jacob is a head taller than both of us.
"I didn't steal anything from your room," Jacob says.
"Oh, really? What about my sneakers?"
"They were in the mudroom," Jacob qualifies.
"Retard," Theo says under his breath, and I see a flash of fire in Jacob's eyes.
"I am not retarded," he growls, and he lunges for his brother.
I hold him off with an outstretched arm. "Jacob," I say, "you shouldn't take anything that belongs to Theo without asking for his permission. And Theo, I don't want to hear that word come out of your mouth again, or I'm going to take your sneakers and throw them out with the trash. Do I make myself clear?"
"I'm outta here," Theo mutters, and he stomps toward the mudroom.
A moment later I hear the door slam.
I follow Jacob into the kitchen and watch him back into a corner.
"What we got here," Jacob mutters, his voice a sudden drawl, "is ... failure to communicate." He crouches down, hugging his knees.
When he cannot find the words for how he feels, he borrows someone else's. These come from Cool Hand Luke; Jacob remembers the dialogue from every movie he's ever seen.
I've met so many parents of kids who are on the low end of the autism spectrum, kids who are diametrically opposed to Jacob, with his Asperger's. They tell me I'm lucky to have a son who's so verbal, who is blisteringly intelligent, who can take apart the broken microwave and have it working again an hour later. They think there is no greater hell than having a son who is locked in his own world, unaware that there's a wider one to explore. But try having a son who is locked in his own world and still wants to make a connection. A son who tries to be like everyone else but truly doesn't know how.
I reach out to comfort him but stop myself-a light touch can set Jacob off. He doesn't like handshakes or pats on the back or someone ruffling his hair. "Jacob," I begin, and then I realize that he isn't sulking at all. He holds up the telephone receiver he's been hunched over, so that I can see the smudge of black on the side. "You missed a fingerprint, too," Jacob says cheerfully. "No offense, but you would make a lousy crime scene investigator." He rips a sheet of paper towel off the roll, dampens it in the sink. "Don't worry, I'll clean up all the blood."
"You never did tell me Theo's motive for killing you."
"Oh." Jacob glances over his shoulder, a wicked grin spreading across his face. "I stole his sneakers."
In my mind, Asperger's is a label to describe not the traits Jacob has but rather the ones he lost. It was sometime around two years old when he began to drop words, to stop making eye contact, to avoid connections with people. He couldn't hear us, or he didn't want to. One day I looked at him, lying on the floor beside a Tonka truck. He was spinning its wheels, his face only inches away, and I thought, Where have you gone?
I made excuses for his behavior: the reason he huddled in the bottom of the grocery cart every time we went shopping was that it was cold in the supermarket. The tags I had to cut out of his clothing were unusually scratchy. When he could not seem to connect with any children at his preschool, I organized a no-holds-barred birthday party for him, complete with water balloons and Pin the Tail on the Donkey. About a half hour into the celebration, I suddenly realized that Jacob was missing. I was six months pregnant and hysterical-other parents began to search the yard, the street, the house. I was the one who found him, sitting in the basement, repeatedly inserting and ejecting a VCR tape.
When he was diagnosed, I burst into tears. Remember, this was back in 1995; the only experience I'd had with autism was Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. According to the psychiatrist we first met, Jacob suffered from an impairment in social communication and behavior, without the language deficit that was a hallmark of other forms of autism. It wasn't until years later that we even heard the word Asperger's-it just wasn't on anyone's diagnostic radar yet. But by then, I'd had Theo, and Henry- my ex-had moved out. He was a computer programmer who worked at home and couldn't stand the tantrums Jacob would throw when the slightest thing set him off: a bright light in the bathroom, the sound of the UPS truck coming down the gravel driveway, the texture of his breakfast cereal. By then, I'd completely devoted myself to Jacob's early intervention therapists-a parade of people who would come to our house intent on dragging him out of his own little world. I want my house back, Henry told me. I want you back.
But I had already noticed how, with the behavioral therapy and speech therapy, Jacob had begun to communicate again. I could see the improvement. Given that, there wasn't even a choice to make.
The night Henry left, Jacob and I sat at the kitchen table and played a game. I made a face, and he tried to guess which emotion went with it. I smiled, even though I was crying, and waited for Jacob to tell me I was happy.
Henry lives with his new family in the Silicon Valley. He works for Apple and he rarely speaks to the boys, although he sends a check faithfully every month for child support. But then again, Henry was always good with organization. And numbers. His ability to memorize a New York Times article and quote it verbatim-which had seemed so academically sexy when we were dating-wasn't all that different from the way Jacob could memorize the entire TV schedule by the time he was six. It wasn't until years after Henry was gone that I diagnosed him with a dash of Asperger's, too.
There's a lot of fuss about whether or not Asperger's is on the autism spectrum, but to be honest, it doesn't matter. It's a term we use to get Jacob the accommodations he needs in school, not a label to explain who he is. If you met him now, the first thing you'd notice is that he might have forgotten to change his shirt from yesterday or to brush his hair. If you talk to him, you'll have to be the one to start the conversation. He won't look you in the eye. And if you pause to speak to someone else for a brief moment, you might turn back to find that Jacob's left the room.
Saturdays, Jacob and I go food shopping. It's part of his routine, which means we rarely stray from it. Anything new has to be introduced early on and prepared for-whether that's a dentist appointment or a vacation or a transfer student joining his math class midyear. I knew that he'd have his faux crime scene completely cleaned up before eleven o'clock, because that's when the Free Sample Lady sets up her table in the front of the Townsend Food Co-op. She recognizes Jacob by sight now and usually gives him two mini egg rolls or bruschetta rounds or whatever else she's plying that week.
Theo's not back, so I've left him a note-although he knows the schedule as well as I do. By the time I grab my coat and purse, Jacob is already sitting in the backseat. He likes it there, because he can spread out. He doesn't have a driver's license, although we argue about it regularly, since he's eighteen and was eligible to get his license two years ago. He knows all the mechanical workings of a traffic light, and could probably take one apart and put it back together, but I am not entirely convinced that in a situation where there were several other cars zooming by in different directions, he'd be able to remember whether to stop or go at any given intersection.
"What do you have left for homework?" I ask, as we pull out of the driveway.
"English isn't stupid," I say.
"Well, my English teacher is." He makes a face. "Mr. Franklin assigned an essay about our favorite subject, and I wanted to write about lunch, but he won't let me."
"He says lunch isn't a subject."
I glance at him. "It isn't."
"Well," Jacob says, "it's not a predicate, either. Shouldn't he know that?"
I stifle a smile. Jacob's literal reading of the world can be, depending on the circumstances, either very funny or very frustrating. In the rearview mirror, I see him press his thumb against the car window. "It's too cold for fingerprints," I say offhandedly-a fact he's taught me.
"But do you know why?"
"Um." I look at him. "Evidence breaks down when it's below freezing?"
"Cold constricts the sweat pores," Jacob says, "so excretions are reduced, and that means matter won't stick to the surface and leave a latent print on the glass."
"That was my second guess," I joke.
I used to call him my little genius, because even when he was small he'd spew forth an explanation like that one. I remember once, when he was four, he was reading the sign for a doctor's office when the postman walked by. The guy couldn't stop staring, but then again, it's not every day you hear a preschooler pronounce the word gastroenterology, clear as a bell.
I pull into the parking lot. I ignore a perfectly good parking spot because it happens to be next to a shiny orange car, and Jacob doesn't like the color orange. I can feel him draw in his breath and hold it until we drive past. We get out of the car, and Jacob runs for a cart; then we walk inside.
The spot that the Free Sample Lady usually occupies is empty.
"Jacob," I say immediately, "it's not a big deal."
He looks at his watch. "It's eleven-fifteen. She comes at eleven and leaves at twelve."
"Something must have happened."
"Bunion surgery," calls an employee, who is stacking packages of carrots within earshot. "She'll be back in four weeks."
Jacob's hand begins to flap against his leg. I glance around the store, mentally calculating whether it would cause more of a scene to try to get Jacob out of here before the stimming turns into a full-blown breakdown or whether I can talk him through this. "You know how Mrs. Pinham had to leave school for three weeks when she got shingles, and she couldn't tell you beforehand? This is the same thing."
"But it's eleven-fifteen," Jacob says.
"Mrs. Pinham got better, right? And everything went back to normal."
By now, the carrot man is staring at us. And why shouldn't he? Jacob looks like a totally normal young man. He's clearly intelligent. But having his day disrupted probably makes him feel the same way I would if I was suddenly told to bungee off the top of the Sears Tower.
When a low growl rips through Jacob's throat, I know we are past the point of no return. He backs away from me, into a shelf full of pickle jars and relishes. A few bottles fall to the floor, and the breaking glass sends him over the edge. Suddenly Jacob is screaming-one high, keening note that is the soundtrack of my life. He moves blindly, striking out at me when I reach for him.
It is only thirty seconds, but thirty seconds can last forever when you are the center of everyone's scrutiny; when you are wrestling your six-foot-tall son down to the linoleum floor and pinning him with your full body weight, the only kind of pressure that can soothe him. I press my
lips close to his ear. "I shot the sheriff," I sing. "But I didn't shoot no deputy ..."
Since he was little, those Bob Marley lyrics have soothed him. There were times I played that song twenty-four hours a day just to keep him calm; even Theo knew all the verses before he was three. Sure enough, the tension seeps out of Jacob's muscles, and his arms go limp at his sides. A single tear streaks from the corner of his eye. "I shot the sheriff," he whispers, "but I swear it was in self-defense."
I put my hands on either side of his face and force him to meet my eyes. "Okay now?"
He hesitates, as if he is taking a serious inventory. "Yes."
I sit up, inadvertently kneeling in the puddle of pickle juice. Jacob sits up, too, and hugs his knees to his chest.
A crowd has gathered around us. In addition to the carrot man, the manager of the store, several shoppers, and twin girls with matching constellations of freckles on their cheeks are all staring down at Jacob with that curious mix of horror and pity that follows us like a dog nipping at our heels. Jacob wouldn't hurt a fly, literally or figuratively-
I've seen him cup his hands around a spider during a three-hour car ride so that, at our destination, he could set it free outside. But if you are a stranger and you see a tall, muscular man knocking over displays, you don't look at him and assume he's frustrated. You think he's violent.
"He's autistic," I snap. "Do you have any questions?"
I've found that anger works best. It's the electric shock they need to tear their gaze away from the train wreck. As if nothing's happened, the shoppers go back to sifting through the navel oranges and bagging their bell peppers. The two little girls dart down the dairy aisle. The carrot man and the manager do not make eye contact, and that suits me just fine. I know how to handle their morbid curiosity; it's their kindness that might break me.
Jacob shuffles along behind me as I push the cart. His hand is still twitching faintly at his side, but he's holding it together. My biggest hope for Jacob is that moments like this won't happen.
My biggest fear: that they will, and I won't always be there to keep people from thinking the worst of him.
Excerpted from House Rules by Jodi Picoult Copyright © 2010 by Jodi Picoult. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for House Rules includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jodi Picoult. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Life in the Hunt family is not exactly easy. Emma’s eldest son, Jacob, has Asperger’s Syndrome and lives a life driven by routine. Certain meals must be prepared on certain days, certain television shows much be watched at certain times, and all change must be planned for weeks in advance. Any unannounced break from the routine could send Jacob into a panic.
Like many other kids with AS, Jacob has a fixation on a particular subject—in his case, forensic science. Jacob keeps a police scanner in his room and likes to show up at crime scenes, providing analysis of the situation to stunned police officers—and, Jacob’s analysis is usually correct. But when his social skills tutor is found dead, the police turn their attention to Jacob. He is ultimately arrested and charged with murder, and he has to stand trial to prove his innocence.
Due to Asperger’s Syndrome, Jacob has trouble making eye contact and has constant tics and twitches, which seem suspicious to law officers and a jury. Jacob knows he is innocent, but he can’t seem to make anyone around him understand.
In House Rules, bestselling author Jodi Picoult explores how a family deals with the effects of autism, and how those who communicate differently are challenged by a justice system that will not accommodate them.
1. House Rules is narrated by five characters: Emma, Jacob and Theo Hunt, lawyer Oliver Bond, and Detective Rich Matson. How do each of these characters bring a different perspective to the novel? How would the reading experience have been different if one of the narrators’ perspectives was removed from the novel?
2. How do you feel about Jacob’s initial decision to cover up Jess’s death and falsely implicate Mark Maguire? Do you think he was fully aware of the consequences of his actions from the beginning? If not, is there a point in the novel where he begins to realize the enormity of what he’s done?
3. “I don’t get into trouble because rules are what keep me sane. . . . I do what I’m told; I just wish everyone else would do it, too.” Discuss what an ideal world for Jacob would be like. Other than a strict adherence to the rules, what values do you think Jacob would like for others to hold as strongly as he does?
4. Emma maintains that she loves both of her sons equally, although she acknowledges that most of her time and attention is taken up by Jacob. What are your feelings regarding the way Emma treats Theo? Do you hold her or Jacob accountable for letting Theo go unnoticed and friendless to the point of breaking into other people’s homes? Why or why not?
5. “It’s wrong, I know that. But all the same, I go inside.” Discuss Theo’s hobby of breaking into and stealing from other people’s houses. What are his reasons for doing so, and what does he gain from these experiences—other than a few cups of tea and a video game he can’t use?
6. “It’s a room with no windows and no doors, and walls that are thin enough for me to see and hear everything but too thick to break through. I’m there, but I’m not there. I am pounding to be let out, but nobody can hear me.” Children with Asperger’s Syndrome can have what Emma refers to as an “autistic meltdown,” where they are helpless to their sudden, overwhelming panic. This quote describes how Jacob feels when he has entered this state. Discuss the range of emotions Emma feels during Jacob’s meltdowns. Do her feelings differ when they are in public as opposed to when they are in private?
7. After seeing Jacob’s rainbow quilt on the news, Emma describes herself as feeling “caught between what you want and what you should do” (159). Ultimately, she decides to call Detective Matson and bring Jacob down to the police station. Do you think Emma does the right thing? What do you think she is trying to accomplish by doing so?
8. How does Theo’s interaction with his father in San Francisco change his attitude toward Henry? Why does he erupt into laughter when Henry offers him a few twenty-dollar bills? Is the short trip also a turning point for Emma? If so, how?
9. Henry plays a significant role in the novel, even if he didn’t play a significant role in Jacob and Theo’s lives prior to the trial. Yet despite his importance, the author does not grant him the opportunity to narrate a single chapter from his point of view. Why do you think this is?
10. “…if I can convince a suspect I’m the second coming of his long-dead grandma and the only way to salvation is to confess to me, so be it.” The delicate balance between right and wrong is a balance Jodi Picoult often explores in her novels. Detective Matson may be the perfect example. Take a look at some of his actions throughout the novel. Can any of them be considered absolutely right or absolutely wrong? Or do they all fall into the gray area in between? Ultimately, what is your group’s verdict on him? Is he a “good cop” or a “bad cop”?
11. Emma and Oliver come together romantically when they are both in times of distress; Emma is drained from the trial and a lifetime of trying to protect her son, and Oliver is frightened and insecure about his competence as a lawyer. Do you think their relationship will last past the trial? What are some of the obstacles they face, and how might they overcome them?
12. Oliver has to fight for the accommodations necessary to give Jacob a fair trial. In your opinion, whose responsibility is it to ensure each suspect is given this fair trial? Ultimately, do you think Jacob receives the fair trial he deserves?
13. Discuss how the balance of honesty versus deception is played out in the novel. Which characters are willing to compromise honesty to get what they want? Are any of the characters not willing to compromise honesty, no matter what the cost?
14. The final case study in the book—“Case 11: My Brother’s Keeper”—outlines the events that occurred in the course of the novel. It ends with a single line: “I’d do it all over again.” Does this line reveal anything new about Jacob? Does it change your feelings toward him in any way?
Reading Group Enhancers
1. Learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome and autism by visiting the Autism Society of America’s Web site at www.autism-society.org.
2. Emma mentions that she had to fight for Jacob’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), just like she and Oliver had to fight for Jacob’s accommodations in the courtroom. Research the availability of IEPs in your state. What is the process for obtaining one?
3. There are many ways to help children with Asperger’s Syndrome and autism, whether by volunteering your time or donating money to research programs. Visit www.networkforgood.org/topics/health/autism/ to learn about programs in your area.
4. Emma prepares gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) meals for Jacob because she believes this type of diet helps him function. Research what foods can be consumed on this type of diet, and try to plan a day’s worth of GFCF meals. Discuss with the group what it would be like to suddenly make this dietary switch in your own family.
5. If your group is interested in learning more about Jodi Picoult’s upcoming projects, try following her on Facebook, Twitter (@jodipicoult), or visit her Web site at www.jodipicoult.com.
A Conversation with Jodi Picoult
How did you first decide upon Asperger’s Syndrome as the focus for this novel?
JP: I have a cousin who’s autistic. Several times, my aunt found herself in a public place trying to control one of his meltdowns – and people who didn’t understand why she was restraining him contacted authorities and made allegations of abuse. As he got older, and moved into a group home, his frustrations became more intense because of his size – he’d break in windows with his fist, for example – and several times the police were called. It got me thinking that the legal system works really well, if you communicate a certain way. But if you don’t, it all goes to Hell in a handbasket really quickly. A lot of the hallmark behaviors of autism – flat affect, stimming, not looking someone in the eye – could very easily be misinterpreted as signs of guilt.
You have been known to do extensive research about the topics in your books. What was the research process like for this novel?
JP: In addition to meeting with attorneys to get the legal information accurate, I met with six teens with Asperger’s, and their parents – face to face. Even though some of the kids were very awkward in a direct setting, I needed to experience that to understand how the rest of the world would feel coming in contact with Jacob. But kids with Asperger’s, who are so smart, shine when you let them answer questions on paper. So another 35 teens and their parents answered lengthy questionnaires for me about themselves, their reactions to situations, their lives, their hopes, their frustrations. It made for some incredible reading, and many of their direct experiences wound up in Jacob’s life. One of these young women with Asperger’s Syndrome was so detailed in her writing and so open about her experiences that she volunteered to help me further. She read the manuscript for accuracy and told me, based on Jacob’s voice, what seemed consistent and what, in her opinion, Jacob would never say or do. The last bit of research I did was incredibly fun – I shadowed a CSI for a week. I got to learn blood spatter analysis, to do presumptive semen tests, to check out crime scenes, and to observe an autopsy. It was fascinating!
When your central characters are in a real-life situation that affects so many people around the world—in this case, dealing with the effects of Asperger’s Syndrome and autism on a family—is there more pressure on you as the author to “get it right”?
JP: It doesn’t really matter whether it’s Asperger’s or a rape victim or a cancer patient – when research subjects open up to me with such honesty I ALWAYS feel a responsibility to “get it right.”
If you could say one thing to the families who are dealing with the effects of having an autistic child, what would it be?
JP: That you’re not alone – and that, hopefully, more and more people will come to understand that a child who’s “different from” is not one who is “lesser than.”
In a previous interview, you referred to your novels taking part in a long line of “moral and ethical fiction.” When you first began writing, did you have the intention of using your work as a springboard for conversation about moral and ethical issues? Or did that come later on?
JP: I think I started gravitating toward that sort of niche as I kept writing. I have always written about subjects that engage me – questions I can’t answer myself. They apparently tend to be big moral and ethical issues! But I never lose sight of the fact that before I was a writer, I was a teacher. I still am. My classroom’s just gotten a little bigger.
House Rules is your seventeenth novel. Do you feel your writing has changed since your first novel? If so, was it an intentional change, or is it something you’ve noticed over time?
JP: I think my writing has become “cleaner.” By that I mean that technically I’ve improved – I might turn a metaphor in five words now, where years ago, it would have taken me a paragraph. I can’t say it was intentional – but you know what they say about practice making perfect…!
Why did you choose to end the book when you did, rather than going into what happens to the characters in the aftermath of the trial?
JP: Because at heart, this is Jacob’s book. And remember, to Jacob, there was never any real mystery here, was there?
Could you talk for a moment about Emma’s character and her struggles throughout the book? You’ve said that your characters’ voices come to you, that they take on a life of their own. Did you find yourself agreeing with Emma’s choices as the novel progressed?
JP: I think Emma is a very typical, very overwhelmed mom. A lot of the moms of autistic kids I met are so consumed with being their child’s advocate that there’s no room for anything else – least of all themselves. It’s why so many marriages end in divorce, when a child is diagnosed on the spectrum. Emma’s journey in this book is one of unwinding – allowing herself to define herself as more than just Jacob’s mother, because that’s been completely eroded by his autism.
If the main characters in this novel had favorite books, what do you think they would be?
JP: What a great question! I think Jacob’s would be, clearly, anything written by Dr. Henry Lee. Oliver would love Presumed Innocent by Turow – it’s probably why he decided to go to law school. Theo would read Vonnegut. He wouldn’t understand Vonnegut, but he’d think it’s the kind of thing a rebel would read. Rich – I think he’s a closet softy, the kind of guy who’s got a dog-eared copy of The Sun Also Rises in his nightstand. And dare I hope that Emma reads Jodi Picoult novels?
Could you give us a glimpse into your next project?
JP: Sing You Home, the 2011 book, is the story of Zoe Baxter, who has spent ten years trying to get pregnant. After multiple miscarriages and infertility issues, it looks like her dream is about to come true – she is seven months pregnant. But a terrible turn of events takes away the baby she has already fallen for; and breaks apart her marriage to Max. In the aftermath, she throws herself into her career as a music therapist – using music clinically to soothe burn victims in a hospital; to help Alzheimer’s patients connect with the present; to provide solace for hospice patients. When Vanessa – a guidance counselor – asks her to work with a suicidal teen, their relationship moves from business to friendship and then, to Zoe’s surprise, blossoms into love. When Zoe allows herself to start thinking of having a family, again, she remembers that there are still frozen embryos that were never used by herself and Max.
Meanwhile, Max has found peace at the bottom of a bottle – until he is redeemed by an evangelical church, whose charismatic pastor – Clive Lincoln – has vowed to fight the “homosexual agenda” that has threatened traditional family values in America. But this mission becomes personal for Max, when Zoe and her same-sex partner say they want permission to raise his unborn child.
Sing You Home explores what it means to be gay in today’s world, and how reproductive science has outstripped the legal system. Are embryos people or property? What challenges do same-sex couples face when it comes to marriage and adoption? What happens when religion and sexual orientation – two issues that are supposed to be justice-blind – enter the courtroom? And most importantly, what constitutes a “traditional family” in today’s day and age?
Also – in a very unique move – readers will get to literally hear Zoe Baxter’s voice. I am collaborating with Ellen Wilber, a dear friend who is also a very talented musician, to create a CD of original songs, which will correspond to each of the chapters. This CD will be packaged with each hardcover book. So – literally – stay tuned!