Saturday, March 06, 2010

Jodi's Back and Man, How I've Missed Her!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Cold.


Withdrawn.


Emotionless.


Anti-social.


Psychopathic.


That's how 18-year-old Jacob Hunt appears to most people. His mother knows better. She knows Jacob's unwillingness to look someone in the eye doesn't equal disrespect, his "tantrums" aren't thrown out of selfishness, and his inability to connect with others doesn't mean he has no desire to. She knows the very traits that make her son look like a remorseless killer can be explained: Jacob Hunt has Asperger's. All she has to do is convince a jury. Considering Jacob's obsession with crime scenes, his admission of "cleaning up" after his friend's death, and his refusal to apologize for his actions, that might be a little difficult.

Life has never been easy for Emma Hunt, one of the stars of Jodi Picoult's newest book, House Rules. Ever since she noticed Jacob disconnecting as a toddler, she's been searching for answers. Her singleminded devotion has meant sacrifice - her husband left years ago, she has no friends, she spends every penny she makes on Jacob's care, and she's unable to give her younger son, Theo, any kind of normal life. When Jacob is accused of murdering Jess, his social skills tutor, things quickly go from bad to worse.

Jail is not friendly to a person who craves quiet, order and routine. Although Jacob is "high-functioning" and has some control over his obsessions, his discomfort with these new accomodations have him "stimming." Emma watches his decline with horror - she's spent her whole life helping Jacob control the obsessions, the fidgeting, the nervous tics that are hallmarks of his disease. In a panic, she hires the first lawyer she can find. Oliver Bond is a former farrier with no experience trying a criminal case. Still, he finds Jacob fascinating, Emma even more so. Together, they work to build a case.

At the same time, Rich Matson, a detective who's been around the block more than once, collects the evidence that could put Jacob away forever. Not every clue adds up, though - Jacob's rarely violent, why would he turn on the one person his age who really seemed to care for him? He's also a brilliant amateur crime scene investigator - why would he leave a sloppy crime scene? Jess' boyfriend's no prince - did he have anything to do with the crime? And what about Theo, whose desire for normalcy led him to break into people's houses? What part did he play in Jess' death?

As Oliver, Rich, Emma and Theo all try to piece together what really happened to Jess Ogilvy, they will have to reevaluate everything they think they know and ask themselves the truly tough questions: Should a person with special needs be treated any differently than a neurotypical defendant? How can a mother, who's spent her whole life insisting her son's not crazy, suddenly embrace an insanity plea? Isn't it wrong to push a boy, who is already on the edge, to the very brink, just to prove the limitations of his condition? Can a person who's incapable of empathizing even understand remorse? Does the legal system truly serve everyone equally or only those who look and act "normal?"

I've been a Jodi Picoult fan for a long time. Her trademark - taking a compelling, "ripped from the headlines" issue and examining it from all sides - works well for me. I love the way she digs into her characters, making me care about their plights even if I don't agree with their points of view. Even though she's used this method consistenly, I've been disappointed with her last few novels. From predictability to poor editing to just somehow lacking that Picoult pizzazz, they haven't captured me like her earlier novels did. Well, I'm glad to say that Jodi's back. House Rules proves it. I'm not saying the story's perfect - it's a bit predictable and there's at least one of those nitpicky, but annoying editing mistakes that just bug (On Page 134, Emma says her mother made Jacob's ROYGBIV quilt, on Page 475, Emma claims it as her own work). Still and all, it's a riveting, thought-provoking story that will leave Picoult fans cheering.

Jodi Picoult is back, folks. And man, how I've missed her!

(Readalikes: Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult; Al Capone Does My Shirts and Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko; Saving Sammy by Beth Maloney)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I bought this glossy hardcover from Amazon.com because I love books in general and Jodi Picoult in particular. So there.

9 comments:

  1. What a great review! So glad to hear you've enjoyed this book as I'll be reading it soon too and my expectations for it are quite high - I'm a Jodi Picoult fan too!

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  2. I love me some JP and cant wait to get my hands on this one!

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  3. I haven't read this one yet. I do get to see her speak on Wed thanks to a local bookstore sponsoring her again. I'll get the book then and have her autograph it. So excited. :)

    I skimmed the review so as not to spoil it. :)

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  4. Thanks for sharing about this book, Susan. I'm looking forward to reading it.

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  5. Thank you, as always, for your wonderful review, Susan. I have read several of Picoult's books but that was quite awhile ago. I haven't read any of her recent ones although I keep meaning to. I think the mixed reader reviews they've gotten may have something to do with that. I am glad this one is more up to her old style. I really like how she presents so many different sides to a situation. It makes the reader think, even if we don't always agree.

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  6. This sounds like such a fantastic book with a great premise. Jodi always has some of the most fascinating and creative story lines. I'll be adding this one to my list. Thanks for the great review. :)

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  7. I usually quite enjoy her books, but I think I may have to avoid this one. My 5 year old son has Asperger's and I think I'm terrified to know what's inside this book.

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  8. I had mixed feelings about this book; some aspects of Picoult's treatment of Asperger's bothered me. On the other hand, there were things I really liked. I haven't yet collected my thoughts to write a proper review. Anyway, I loved reading your perspective, and I'll link to this post when I finally get my review up.

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