House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Actually I’m not sure if the author spells her name with an i or a y at the end, and frankly I’m too lazy to google it at the moment. It doesn’t matter. Really.

This was my book club’s selection this time around, which was supposed to be discussed on a girls’ trip to the Mountaineer casino in West Virginia. But pretty much everyone bailed on the trip and now we’re just meeting at Panera and going to see the Hunger Games movie. Which blows. Except that I’m extremely stoked about the movie part. And I love Panera. I just wanted drunken debauchery and now I’ll have to settle for indigestion when I eat too much soup from the bread bowl.

I gotta say that because I’m such a book snob, I would have never chosen this book on my own if I were browsing the shelves of the local Borders Barnes & Noble. In fact, I wouldn’t be caught dead even looking at this title, because other book geeks might look down their bifocals at me and my bookie cred would be in the weeds.

Then I learned that it the book centers around a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome and I thought, oh great, here comes a manufactured tear-jerker, where despite my best efforts to remain aloof, I’d be a blubbering mess about 1/3 of the way through it.

That didn’t happen. I didn’t shed one tear.

But what did happen is that I could barely put this 500+ page book down. Jacob, the “Aspie” teenager as he and his family call it, is obsessed with crime scene investigation to the point of showing up at actual crime scenes and solving the crime before the cops have even finished drawing the chalk outlines. He must watch “CrimeBusters” on TV every day at 4:30 or he’ll melt down. He keeps meticulous notes of each episode in piles of notebooks. But when his tutor is found dead at an obviously constructed crime scene, he’s on the hot seat. Because of his lack of communication skills and his inability to understand sarcasm or rhetorical questions, Jacob incriminates himself to the police. Told through the perspective of Jacob, his younger brother Theo, their mother Emma, the attorney and the cop in alternating chapters (and fonts! which at first really tweaked me out), the mystery of what happened to Jess (Jacob’s tutor) slowly starts to come together.

It was the mystery that made me continue to turn the pages. Did Jacob actually commit the crime? Why was Theo at her house the night she died? Will the truth ever come out at the trial, or will Jacob end up in prison?

There’s other stuff going on here, with the mom and the laywer hooking up, but the mom’s character was a bit of a turnoff. She is supposed to be a sympathetic character because she raised the two boys on her own (the father shows up late in the book, writes a check and tries to be supportive – too little too late, dude!), but I found her to be largely ignorant on what was going on with her younger son. Her efforts are 99% focused on Jacob, and Theo is kind of an afterthought. Sucks to be him. Might be why he breaks into other people’s houses and takes small tokens that won’t be missed.

That being said, I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like to be in her shoes. To have to provide that level of care, to cook only red food on Monday, blue on Thursday. To not have your child’s different colored clothes touching when putting laundry away, or god forbid, to be out of rainbow order. To avoid using cliches because they are confusing. To always have to make sure you’re home by 4:30. And so on. I thought about this a lot while I was reading, since I have two boys of my own, who thankfully are healthy. There are days with the two of them that I just want to open my front door and see if I can thumb a ride somewhere far, far away. Adding Asperger’s on top of that, I don’t know if I have a strong enough character that would be able to handle it.

Anyway, book snobbery aside, this is one that I wholeheartedly recommend. And I will speak of enthusiastically over my soup in a bread bowl.

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