Jacob is 18, has Asperger's (high-functioning autism) and is passionately interested in crime investigation. When his social skills tutor is apparently murdered, Jacob is accused of the crime and dragged from a world that revolves around his disability into the criminal justice environment, where people don't understand autism and are often hostile to Jacob's untypical behaviors. His brother Theo and his mother Emma, already suffering from a family dynamic where Jacob's needs overwhelm all others, have to find a way to cope with their own feelings while ensuring that Jacob gets a fair hearing.
Have I ever read any Jodi Picoult before? I'm not sure. House Rules could be the first. But having stayed up till the wee hours yesterday because I absolutely had to know how the novel ended, I think it may not be the last.
Picoult writes a great story. In House Rules she alternates between the point of view of the different characters in short chapters, but while I don't always find this method works for me, in this case it did. Some readers might find that there's too much explanation: of autism, of the legal system and so on, but I suppose the alternative is to leave the non-expert reader puzzled, and that would also be unsatisfactory.
As the parent of a developmentally disabled child I was particularly impressed by the family dynamic in the book, which is absolutely spot on. We get to see not only Jacob's take on his life, but learn how his condition has affected every area of Theo and Emma's lives, which is rarer in fiction.
The novel is fast-paced and compelling, a most satisfying choice for a long journey or a relaxing weekend. The book's cover is, as often happens, totally misleading: it promises something a whole lot weepier and somehow cuter, whereas what you get is sometimes abrasive, quite hard-hitting, and totally unsentimental. Thank goodness.