Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bookshelf: Jodi Picoult


About a month ago I took a stroll up to Borders in Downtown Crossing and purchased "House Rules" by Jodi Picoult. I had intended to save it until my mini vacation at the end of this week but last week after finally finishing the 1400 page Diana Gabaldon mamouth I decided I couldn't wait any longer so I cracked the binding.
"House Rules" is the story of Jacob Hunt, an eighteen year old boy with Asperger's, and how he is accused of murdering his twenty-four year old grad school tutor. What might normally be blatant signs of guilt to a jury - lack of eye contact, stimming, and inaprioriate reaction (in this case to the details of a murder scene) are actually characteristics of someone with Asperger's. While Jacob has always been one to follow the rules down to a T, his inability to grasp the seriousness of the situation puts himself and his family in the law's spotlight.
What I enjoy most in Picoult's novels is the way she sets up a story. She sets up the predicament and then settles you in the midst of it getting you all comfy in the muck of it. I'll admit, in both "House Rules" and "Nineteen Minutes" I had figured what had happened by page fifty and yet I loved them both. Just because you think you know the hidden truth doesn't take away from the fun of the journey.
Unlike some authors, Picoult also jumps from character to character so that you have a unique chance to get inside each character's mind. I didn't think I'd particularly enjoy being in the mind of an eighteen year old boy with Asperger's but she wrote him in such a way that he was unintentionally funny and I felt like I was actually reading the thoughts of a man, not just what a female author thinks a man is thinking.
In "Nineteen Minutes" (my now second favorite of her books), she made me feel for Peter Houghton in a way I don't think I would normally feel for a killer. It wasn't simply the way I was able to relate to him, having myself been picked on in school, but it was the way she set me inside Peter's head so I could see high school the way he saw it and understand (though not agree) with his actions.
Picoult really knows her characters, which can't necessarily be said for every author, and just thinking about the amount of research she must do to make these characters believable simply exhausts me. But she does what she has to to make these stories real. And most importantly, the family dynamics are organic. Maybe it's because Picoult herself has a big family or maybe she just understands relationships more than others, but the way she grasps a mother's love or a sibling's love/hate relationship is what makes her novels work. And it's what keeps me coming back.
What I love about Picoult's books are that I can read them and know that somewhere in the world these characters exist and are going through this, whether it be dealing with the aftermath of a school shooting, coming to terms with a family member's terminal illness, or wondering if your family member is actually capable of murder.
I may not have read every one of Picoult's books just yet but I will eventually. It's just that I feel the same way about her novels as I do about Christmas presents. Once you've unwrapped them all there's no more until next year. So I think I'll take my time getting through them all. There's no point in rushing after all.
If you're interested in reading about children on the autism spectrum, some other great books to check out are "The Curious Insident of the Dog in the Nightime" by Mark Haddon and "A Friend Like Henry" by Nuala Gardner (though a warning on the last - it did make me cry).



  1. wow what a great review. definitely something to consider.. :D

    thanks so much for sharing -- and great blog!!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I really thought the book was fantastic.


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