From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and the modern classics My Sister’s Keeper, The Storyteller, and more, comes a “complex, compassionate, and smart” (The Washington Post) novel about a family torn apart by a murder accusation.
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).
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Jodi Picoult received an AB in creative writing from Princeton and a master’s degree in education from Harvard. The recipient of the 2003 New England Book Award for her entire body of work, she is the author of twenty-six novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers House Rules, Handle With Care, Change of Heart, and My Sister’s Keeper, for which she received the American Library Association’s Margaret Alexander Edwards Award. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Visit her website at JodiPicoult.com.
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
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.
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!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Jodi Picoult's latest novel is a sensitive and moving insight into the lives of one family affected by Asperger's Syndrome. Jacob is an eighteen year old young man struggling to appear "normal" in a world that is NOT yet prepared to welcome him as he is. While unwittingly involving himself in a serious crime, Picoult manages to share with the reader the deepest feelings of his mother Emma, his younger brother Theo, and Jacob himself as he is forced to do the one thing that children with Asperger's find most impossible to do...to make contact with world; and in Jacob's case have his voice heard in our judicial system. Through Jacob we learn what it is truly like to live daily with the painful social isolation, eccentric behavior,and circumscribed passions of someone who struggles to just "fit in" and connect to others. From the moment you enter Jacob, Emma and Theo's life, Picoult skillfully teaches us about the pain and pleasure of having an Asperer's child in the family in vivid detail and with powerful imagery. Ironically,with this well written and absorbing novel, Picoult achieves the very contact with the reader that you will wish Jacob and others who struggle with this variant of Autism could do on their own.
Jodi Picoult's latest book is redundant of her previous works, with the substitution of Jacob, a young man with Asperger's syndrome, for the character in previous disease (or social ill)-of-the-week plots. It's obvious Picoult's done a lot of research, and she appears to "nail" the character of Jacob. It's worth reading the chapters in his voice to learn about the thought process and behavior of a person with Asperger's. The other characters, however, are hardly more than cardboard cutouts. The mother is especially disappointing. How did this woman of strong educational background, great heart, and earnest endeavor, who has worked tirelessly and successfully to champion her son in the bureaucracy of education, do so without finding allies along the way to aid her when facing the challenge of a new bureaucracy in the court system? And how is it that the skills learned in a school setting were so difficult to transfer to the bureaucracy of a court setting? That just didn't ring true. Also, parents who work so hard through the system on behalf of their special-needs children are generally not taken by surprise when the child turns 18 and is considered an adult by the outside world; they work ahead of time to prepare for that eventuality, especially in this day and age when medical personnel can't even discuss care matters of an 18+-y.o. child without a signed release. My advice: ignore the substandard plot and flat characters of most chapters, and just go for the gold: Jacob's voice. There's much to be learned there from a character worth getting to know.
Emma Hunt has dedicated her life to her son Jacob who suffers with Asperger's syndrome. Her sacrifice has come with personal lost and cost as her career was pushed aside; her ex-husband Henry the computer programmer left as he worked at home and could not concentrate with the tantrums; and her other son Theo three years younger than Jacob is expected to watch over him when mom cannot, but ignored otherwise by her as he cannot even get his permit. She lives to protect Jacob and Theo understands that the prime house rule is take care of your brother. However, her efforts to give her soon a life fall apart when the police charge eighteen years old Jacob with the murder of Jess Ogilvy. His inability to understand non verbal signs and comprehend social nuances puts Jacob at risk. Desperate, she hires Oliver O. Bond as Jacob's lawyer. This is a super look at Asperger's Syndrome, but not just the person suffering from it, but also the impact on family members especially Theo. The murder mystery tales a back seat even in the courtroom to how Henry thinks and reacts to senses overload, which can be simply crinkling of paper. Rotating perspective between family members, the lawyer and others, fans obtain a deep look at the total impact of Asperger's Syndrome. Harriet Klausner
I don't mind at all reading big books if they're engrossing. This one was not. Although the main character of Jacob, who is autistic, was interesting, I found myself getting really annoyed with some of the rest of the people (his mother, his lawyer, the cop). The "mystery" dragged out way too long and then was "solved" within 2 practically throw-away paragraphs on page 526 (of 532), and we don't find out what happens to any of the main characters after the "big reveal." After investing a fair amount of time in reading this book, I found it to be very disappointing.
This book had a great story to tell. I have yet to read a book with this kind of story line from the perspective of someone with Autism. The story line was in fact engaging but where it falls short are the characters. Normally Jodi Picoult's books have so many fascinating characters and with this one I really have to say that only one or maybe two of the characters caught my attention. I even found myself speed reading the chapters of the characters I had no interest in. I will say that she made Jacob very believable. I can only assume because I have personally never had the pleasure of knowing anyone with autism but it did seem very believable to me. Sadly this one not one of her best. Allot of her first books they hold you from page one and you just can't put it down, this one not so much. It is a great thing when your favorite authors become popular because then you get to read more of their books at a faster pace BUT at the same time they start to churn them out so fast and they fall short. In the end I was glad I borrowed it from the library and not paid the money to purchase it.
Emma Hunt, who is almost entirely focused on helping her eighteen-year-old son, Jacob, who has Asperser's syndrome, learn to communicate with his family and peers. Emma's life is complicated by the fact that her husband, Henry, left shortly after their younger son, Theo, was born. Fifteen-year-old Theo deeply resents the amount of time and money that his mother lavishes on his older brother. Jacob possesses so much knowledge on the subject of forensics; he could truly aid the investigators, which gets him into deep trouble However, although Jacob is very intelligent, what he sorely lacks is social skills. To help Jacob, his mother Emma hires, Jess, a pretty grad student to tutor Jacob in developing social skills. This is a compelling, thought-provoking story that grabs you right off the bat and holds your attention throughout.
Once more Jodi Picoult has given us an outstanding novel which not only entertains, but also clearly brings to light the dilemmas which families who have children with a behavioral disability have to live with every day. I couldn't wait to read this book and had a hard time putting it down when there were other things that needed to be done. It gave me insight into autism and specifically Aspergers Syndrome. The characters were so real. Emma, the mother of Jacob, was a very real person who had to change her whole life to help her son live in his world with minimal conflicts. I am a great admirer of Picoult's and can't begin to understand how she is able to do all of the research which her novels frequently demand. This book kept me on the edge throughout and I couldn't wait to see how it was going to end, but when I finished it I missed not being able to read any more!! I admit to being a fan of Jodi Picoult's but she has written several I wasn't wild about, however, this was really tops them all. I heartily recommend this to book clubs and everyone else.
I was thoroughly engaged in this book - even thought I had the ending figured out. And then --- are you sure there aren't pages missing from my book? That's it? Very disappointing ending - I guess Jodi had an appointment to get to or something!
Sometimes this author is hit and miss but this book was phenomenal. I could not put it down and read it in a few days. You fall right in love with the main characters and really feel like you are in the story.
I love Jodi Picoult but though the premise is interesting and the factual information enlightening, the whole story is contrived and hard to follow. The ending is not Jodi's usual shock, but again just frustrating. Do not buy this book and if you are a Picoult fan wait until you can borrow it. Also, I agree with the other commetns about the ebook price - hard to believe that you can get paper and book binding for little more than this price.
This novel illustrates how being different can cause tremendous hardship and can disrupt ordinary family life; it is a tale of how dysfunction affects each member of the family in a different way; it is a tale about how hard it is to attempt to function in a normal world when everything about you and your world is not the norm. The story is told in the voices of the five main characters. 1-Jacob is the main character. The author gets inside his head and really shows what it is like to have Asperger's, to be locked out of the normal world and to live in a space where all outside stimuli are larger than life. She has captured what it feels like to be an outsider, always looking in, trying to belong but never being accepted because the necessary skills are absent. Jacob's inability to function normally in the world has had devastating effects on the life of his entire family. He cannot read the clues people send out and he often misinterprets behavior and makes inappropriate responses. The family is preoccupied with preventing an outburst from too much sensory stimulation. He is an exceptionally bright senior in high school. His hobby is forensics and he uses a police scanner to learn about crime scenes, offering advice to the trained detectives. 2-Emma, Jacob's mom, is very devoted to him, often leaving her other son to fend for himself. She works from home writing an advice column, which is ironic since she has a hard time dealing with her own problems, let alone those of strangers. Money is always tight because Jacob needs an enormous amount of intervention in order to be mainstreamed so he can function somewhat, in the real world. Her marriage has ended in divorce because Henry cannot cope with Jacob and his effect on their daily and married life. Emma is often preoccupied with Jacob and neglects, of necessity, everyone else. Although Henry supports them financially, he is emotionally and physically absent from the family. 3-Theo is Jacob's brother. Because of Jacob's bizarre abnormal reactions to normal situations, Theo's needs are often ignored. Although Theo is not autistic, he also exhibits some anti-social behavior as a result of his loneliness and feelings of neglect. He wants a normal home life. While Jacob has no friends because his mental problems keep people away from him, Theo has no friends because when his brother appears on the scene, they shun him too. The stain of his brother's Asperger's colors him as well. 4- Jess is Jacob's social skills tutor who is writing a paper on Autism. She has helped him when it comes to interacting in the world in ordinary social situations. He really relates well to her and likes being with her because she makes him feel comfortable. When she is found murdered, Jacob is accused and arrested. His arrest sets the story in motion. 5-Oliver is the lawyer who represents Jacob in the murder trial. He relates well to Jacob and is helpful to Emma. The relationship that develops between them makes the story a bit contrived. It seems convenient and not very plausible. He is 28 and she is the mother of an 18 year old. Once you become drawn into the story, however, the harder it becomes to put the book down. It is upsetting because of the injustice of the way society treats people who march to a different drummer, but it is also very exciting and keeps you guessing as to the ultimate outcome.
House Rules was a very well-written, informative and entertaining book. While I loved the character of Jacob, my heart went out to Theo. I learned alot about Asperger's Syndrome and felt the author did a great job getting the reader inside the head of Jacob. However, I was disappointed by the ending. I don't always expect a happy ending, but it would have been good to have a few of the loose ends tied up.
This is a story about Jacob Hunt who has Asperger's syndrome. He just wants to fit in as does his family but suddenly they are cast into the spotlight when Jacob's social skills tutor is found dead. This is a compelling story about how an entire family has to deal with Asperger's syndrome; not just the person who has the syndrome. Very compelling and compassionate; that we shouldn't judge a person from their cover (or book! :) ). Picoult is known for twists in her stories and this is no different. Wonderful story and writing; another story to make us all stop and think!
Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. But then when a terrible murder happens, the police come to Jacob with questions. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger's - not looking someone in the eye, can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob and his family, who only want to fit in, feel the spotlight shining directly on them. I's a very moving reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding of others.
I wanted to read this book because my son has AS and I wanted to read about a character like him. I wanted to like the book and the author and tried to separate my feelings on autism (blaming it on vaccines? Really?) from the plot and characters. In the end I was disappointed in the entire plot, characters, and ending. I couldn't believe the contrivances that were so neatly thrown together in the last few pages, and was disappointed in the abrupt ending and stereotypical characters. In contrast, "Nineteen Minutes" wove a real story and led up to a painful ending and had closure (for lack of a better word)for the main characters. Here, Jacb's mother is supposed to understand him and how he processes information beter thanevery other character, but even she gets caught up in the misunderstanding? The trial was a trial to read, when it should have been the most interesting part of the book. (On a personal note, my son doesn't take 3 dozen supplements, he gets a Flintstone vitamin, he eats what we all eat, there are no Blue Fridays. Emma as a mom of a son with AS was not believable to me, because she and Theo were slaves to Jacob's routine, no exceptions, instead of helping him cope with the world, she enabled him to never have to do those things and expected everyone else to do the same.)
Fantastic novel that I couldn't put down! Get it!
I read this book at 13 and thought it was very well written. Living with a special needs younger brother, this gave me some insight into what gos through his mind as things occur througout the day. The book was very moving and at times brought me to tears, wanting wat was best for Jacob, but also seeing justice done. I would HIGHLY reccommend this book to annyone, especialy if you know someone with special needs.
Good enough to keep me reading but, predictable like many Piccoult books. They're like Lifetime movies...watchable but predictable.
My reading of this book was horrifically interrupted when I neglected to bring it back with me from Maine last weekend. Ok, maybe not horrifically, but I was at a really good part, and I didn't realize I left it until I was 1/2 way back to Massachusetts. I was this close to taking the next exit and going back for it. Fortunately my mother was kind enough to offer to send it through the mail and I could finally find out what happens. My brother has never officially been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, but there's a good chance that he has it. Reading from the point of view of an "Aspie" gave me such insight into their thought process and lack of empathy, I almost feel that if I had known this when we were growing up we may not have fought so often. My brother's not quite as fanatic (we didn't have Blue Days and Yellow Days), but he definitely has some traits. I understood Theo quite often because that's often how I felt about my own relationship. Jodi weaves her characters so well that they jump off the page. She can write as a 40-year-old single mother as well as she can write as a 15-year-old teenager. Her seamless ability to hop between the minds of the different characters adds to the flavor of the story. It's almost like you get more than one story because it's told from all those different viewpoints. Jodi is one of few authors who are able to go from character to character without getting confusing or annoying. One thing I found interestingly odd was that Emma and Oliver and the psychiatrists kept saying how literal Jacob is and that he doesn't understand normal idioms used in everyday languages, yet no one asks him directly whether or not he killed Jess. One question could have saved everyone a lot of trouble! I very much enjoyed how everyone skirted around the question because "I don't want to know" (Oliver, the lawyer), but if they had, the trial would have gone a lot differently. As usual, Jodi has written a wonderful story about an unique family and their struggle just to survive. You can't help but feel sympathy for all of the characters no matter what their situation. In "House Rules" she takes a family that could live next door or even be your own and shows how they stick together to make it through the tough times. One of the "house rules" in the book is to take care of your brother, no matter what, because he's the only one you've got, and that is the underlying theme through it all.
As a mom with a aspie child, I had a problem with how Jacob talked about himself in the first Jacob chapter. Most aspie kids write in logical format and cannot describe why they are feeling a certain way, they just know that they do, therefore, they react. They have a problem with being insightful and I could not get past the first person of Jacob to get through the rest of the book. I am sure the author did much research on the traits of the child, as the "mom" describes the behaviors to a T - it's the Jacob part that I had a problem with - just too chatty vs logical straight forward thinking.
this was a very enjoyable read. Highly recommend.
I know a lot of people say that Jodi Picoult's books can be repetitive and depressing, but I cannot get enough of her. I love how she chooses current controversial issues as topics. Even though I'm always expecting it, the twist ending always keeps me captivated right up until the end. This book in particular gives the reader insight into the world of a family with an autistic son and the difficulties that they endure every day. I love how in all of Picoult's books, the perspective changes in each chapter, allowing the reader to see the story from each character's point of view. I can't wait for her next book!
I have read everything Jodi Picoult has written. I love her style of telling the story from each character's perspective. This story was interesting to read and as always her characters were well developed. The ending was easy to figure out early on in the book. You wonder how the characters could be so obtuse and then when the truth is revealed the book just ends.
I really enjoy Picoult's books; I have not read them all, but what I have read have been so thought provoking. After reading Picoult's books they stay with me for a long time. The subject matter is always so sobering and relevant. This one did not disappoint. Although I agree with some of the other posts, not all the characters were as well developed in this one as in her other books. I could not put the book down and was surprised by the ending. It left me a little bit unsatisfied, but yet it leaves room for the reader to come to their own conclusion on how it all works out.
This was my first Picoult book (and won't be my last), and I enjoyed learning about Asperger's syndrome as the story unfolded. I was intrigued by the writing style and couldn't wait to get back to the book after putting it down. The ending left me empty, however. What occurred after we learned what happened? In fact, I got a bit angry that the story seemed incomplete.