22 March 2010

Review: HOUSE RULES by Jodi Picoult ***

Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. He's hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject -- in his case, forensic analysis. He's always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do...and he's usually right.
But then his town is rocked by a terrible murder and, for a change, the police come to Jacob with questions. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger's -- not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, flat affect -- can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob and his family feel the spotlight shining directly on them.
For his mother, Emma, it's a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it's another indication of why nothing is normal because of Jacob. And over this small family the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?
Emotionally powerful from beginning to end, House Rules looks at what it means to be different in our society, how autism affects a family, and how our legal system works well for people who communicate a certain way -- and fails those who don't.

I've read most of Jodi Picoult's books and I like to say she's one of my favourite authors so naturally I was excited to read her latest offering too. I wasn't sure if I was in the mood for it, but after seeing reviews everywhere, I just couldn't resist it. I found the first half of the book absolutely gripping and I just couldn't put it down; I just wanted to read on and on as I really wanted to know what actually happened on that day. But then the obligatory Picoult courtroom scenes came and the book really slowed down. I kept reading as I was expecting some major twist in the end, but little did I know that the only thing this novel had in store for me was The Lamest Twist in the History of Plot Twists, which was quite an unpleasant surprise since Ms Picoult is famous for her shocking plot twists. And here, there wasn't even a twist, just the final explanation which just made me roll my eyes. I just kept thinking, "Is *that* even possible? Wouldn't a medical examiner have spotted that? Why didn't they just *ask* Jacob what actually happened?" So yeah, this book sadly went from a very promising opening to a rather disappointing conclusion.

While I did enjoy reading it, especially the first half or so, I thought the book was far too long and full of fillers. Ms Picoult has a trademark writing style, which is lovely and full of metaphors and I would recognize it immediately, even if I didn't know something was written by her. I can't fault it and Picoult definitely knows how to write, but now I feel that she always uses the same techniques, plus to me it feels like all her characters have a similar narrative voice so I find it difficult to tell them apart without being told who's narrating the story (there are always multiple narrators), which obviously affects the characterization as well. I wasn't particularly annoyed by any of the characters in this book, but sadly I didn't really connect to them either. They were basically just the standard Picoult characters: the child with an issue, the mother who will do anything for that child, the resentful sibling, the distant significant other, the lawyer, the detective, the prosecutor, the judge and yadda yadda, so basically nothing new really.

Picoult tackles a topical issue in each of her novels and this time she picked Asperger's Syndrome, "a highly-functional form of autism". At first I found the subject fascinating and it was interesting to see the world through the eyes of an Aspie, but after hearing the definition of Asperger's Syndrome and all the symptoms for like the twentieth time, I did feel slightly beaten over the head with the subject of autism and I think I could probably recite the definition in my sleep, which is slightly annoying.

As for the covers, I posted both the UK and US ones above. I can't say I'm a fan of either (too much green *shudder*), but in this case the UK one is definitely the winner - well, at least it's relevant to the story (the rainbow quilt plays an importan part), whereas the US one feels completely random. I've no idea what a small child is doing on the cover since Jacob, the main character, is supposed to be 18?

One last thing, and this is slightly off-topic, but I'm afraid I'm not a fan of Ms Picoult's use of sexist language. I've noticed it in several of her works actually and I'm quite surprised that she still uses the male pronoun to specify the indefinite pronoun, which is a pet peeve of mine; e.g. (p. 466 of my ARC):

"So someone with Asperger's might be smart?"
"Someone with Asperger's might even have a genius level IQ. However, when it comes to small talk, he'll be completely inept. He has to be taught social interactions [...]"
"A person with Asperger's desperately wants to fit in but simply can't understand social behaviour [...] He won't be able to read gestures or facial expressions [...] He won't be able to intrepret a non-verbal clue [...]"

Sadly, these are not lone examples; they appear all over the place and it really ticks me off so I'd like to take a moment and invite everyone to read this excellent article on Why Sexist Language Matters. Thank you and I hope I'm not the only one who feels so strongly about this issue? :)

All in all, I admit I was slightly disappointed with the latest Picoult offering, which is quite the opposite of how I felt about her previous novel, Handle with Care, which I gobbled up in one day. I'm afraid that despite a very promising and gripping opening I can't rate this one among my personal Picoult favourites (The Pact, Mercy, My Sister's Keeper, Nineteen Minutes etc.), but I expect her 2011 novel, Sing You Home, will turn out far better - I can't wait for it!

If you're not familiar with the Picoult phenomenom yet, then I wouldn't really suggest you start with this novel as I personally don't think it shows the best of what Picoult can do. But don't be discouraged by my review - despite all the compaints I had, I enjoyed reading this novel so definitely give it a try if you're a Picoult fan, it might tickle your fancy more than mine, who knows. :) Watch the official trailer below to learn more about the book!

overall rating:
plot: 3/5 | writing: 3/5 | characters: 3/5 | cover: 3/5


Rhiana said...

I haven't read any Picoult in ages, as, if I'm honest I find them too samey. I was thinking about getting this one because after a big break I might enjoy, but I've already got a couple of her others on the shelf to read so I think I'll leave it for now. Thanks for the review!

LambAround said...

I haven't read any of her books. Maybe I'll give one of her older ones a try. Which would you recommend starting with?
My boss loves to read and she has a teenage son with Asperger's. I'll let her know about this book.


Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

I reviewed this a little while ago too and I think you commented on my Goodreads page about it as well! I agree with everything you write here but this one struck me right. I totally agree there is a formula to her writing and the last two of her books, I just did not enjoy as much.
You give a great solid honest review and that's what it's all about. i will continue to read all of her books and I won't get too worried about not loving them all.
I just thought this topic would be a good one to get discussion going as it is "hot" right now.

Jeanne C. said...

I haven't jumped on the Jodi Picoult bandwagon yet. I will soon.... really.

Jenny said...

I have this to read soon, but I keep putting it off b/c it's so long and I'm afraid it will be too much the same as her other books. I love her books, but usually around this time when books are coming out one year right after the other I start to think the quality starts to decrease. I'm still going to read it and really hope I do like it. We'll see!

bookaholic said...

I really like Jodi Picoult novels for the complexities of human emotions it deals with..

Jennifer (Crazy-for-Books) said...

I recently read an ARC of this and loved it. With the sexism comment, I honestly didn't even notice that. I guess I just thought that since Jacob was a male, then that was the reason for using the "he" pronoun instead of "she". Does she do that a lot in her other books? I've only read a couple of them.

I really loved this book and have a bunch of her others on my TBR shelf that I can't wait to read!

bookaholic said...

I have an award for you on my blog hon :)

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Wonderful, thorough, honest review :D Thank you

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

Great point about the sexist language!! I'm glad someone else is irked by that type of thing!

Penny said...

I list Jodi as one of my favourite authors too, but I have to say she is becoming a little samey for me. I can pretty much predict the course any one of her books is going to take now. I haven't read a new release from her since Nineteen minutes, and I don't think I'll be checking this one out for a while either.

Robby said...

I really loved this book, but I completely agree with everything you wrote. She's getting a little formulaic.
I'll still devour everything she writes.

Luisa at Chicklish said...

Thank you for a fascinating and really thoughtful review. I particularly loved reading what you wrote about sexist language, and I'm going to check out your link now.
Thank you so much for all of this!

Emidy said...

I loved reading this review! But it's too bad that this book didn't live up to what the author is capable of. I haven't read anything by Picoult, so I probably won't start here.

from Une Parole

Lea (YA Book Queen) said...

Great review! Sounds intriguing...but I do hate disappointing endings.

Melissa said...

Excellent review! It's hard when the book doesn't quite live up to the author's good name, but I like to hold out hope that they'll get better again :)

dArLyN said...

1st of all, I like your layout!so sweet and beautiful..

as for the review, nice..i love picoult.and cant wait to read the house rules as well.i love handle with care so much and i also expect the same with the house rules. maybe i should check it soon.thanks for the review!

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