Hi again, Bookies! First of all, I have to say how much I loved reading your comments on my introduction post. What a wonderful array of favorite spots to read. While I was firmly entrenched at the beach this weekend diving into House Rules (and resisting the urge to finish the entire book in one sitting), I thought of many of you sitting back on your porches or at the park or curled up on a comfy sofa with a cup of tea.
I’m dying to hear what you all think of the book so far. Reader VaniSan has already admitted that she couldn’t wait to find out how it ended – and I’m sure she’s not alone. Whether you’ve already read through to the end, or are following along with our reading schedule, I hope you’ll join the discussion. Just one rule here: if you’ve read to the end, please try to avoid spoiling anything plot-wise for those of us who are reading in sections!
On to our discussion…
I’ve already said that an intriguing plot is one of my favorite qualities of a Picoult novel, and this book is no exception. From the first paragraph, where Emma describes Jacob’s staged crime scene, I’m hooked. We’re immediately introduced to some of the complications and unique behaviors associated with Jacob’s Asperger’s, and it’s not long before we’ve been let in on the complex family dynamic going on here. It’s no surprise that Jacob’s differences have resulted in a very different life for Emma and Theo as well, and while they’re not asking for my pity, I can’t help the fact that the whole situation just breaks my heart. Part of that, no doubt, is in the telling of the story – Picoult’s device of jumping from one character’s narration to another inspires an easy empathy and a well-balanced understanding of this family. It always makes me feel like I’m getting more of the full picture, getting inside the heads of these very different characters.
I’ve had some personal experience with Autism. Years ago, while taking some classes in Special Education at the University of Virginia, I volunteered at a school for Autistic children. They were wonderful kids, each of whom had something very unique to give. While there were no students on the high end of the spectrum (like Jacob) while I was there, I got to experience many of the hallmark behaviors he shares with individuals on lower ends of the spectrum. It was an unbelievable experience that left me with a profound admiration for the parents and teachers of the children at the school. I cannot imagine being in the shoes of those parents. I am in awe of their patience and perseverance in the face of daily frustration. Emma is no exception, and through her Picoult manages to give us what seems like a very clear picture of just how challenging this type of motherhood can be. Despite all the ways in which Emma tells us she feels she is failing, I can’t stop thinking: this woman is a saint. I’m curious to know about your experiences with Autism too, and how it might affect your reading of this book?
The sibling relationship is equally intriguing. Theo didn’t sign up for this either, and we’re given a clear picture of just how Jacob’s differences affect his daily life as well. He knows the house rules – written and unwritten – like the fact that he’s supposed to make exceptions for Jacob, and that plans can change in the blink of an eye if Jacob has one of his meltdowns. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around his whole breaking-into-houses thing (though it reminds me somewhat of the brother’s arson behavior in My Sister’s Keeper), but I think he might just like the idea of any other place that feels more like a “normal” home. What are your thoughts on it?
I love it when we get to hear about Asperger’s from Jacob himself – I’m absolutely fascinated by this perspective and think Picoult does an incredible job of capturing his own frustrations. Things that I think of as simple – communicating my feelings with others, reading someone’s facial expressions – are practically impossible for Jacob. I can’t imagine living this way, but then again, he doesn’t know any different. I can’t help but laugh when he describes the frequent social interactions gone awry – some of them are surely injected for comic relief? The whole thing is just so totally eye-opening – his inability to be anything but literal in conversations (and in answering questions) is obviously going to play a huge role in the development of this story.
And like any fan of one of the many popular crime/police/forensics dramas on TV these days (my personal fave: Law & Order: SVU), I’m totally caught up in the whole forensics aspect of this book. I’d like to think that, since he seems to devote most of his time to the study of them, the forensics are going to save Jacob from the accusations that seem sure to come his way. But, like Emma, I fear that all the hallmark behaviors of his Asperger’s are bound to doom him. I’m worried about how those who know nothing about Asperger’s (Detective Rich, Oliver the Lawyer) are going to botch things up. And at the end of the third section, I’m terrified that Jacob actually did have something to do with Jess’s death. It was one thing when I just thought she was missing and the backpack came tumbling out of his closet. I thought: Surely, this can be explained. I was still holding on to the hope that she was alive somewhere. But then when Jacob goes to visit with her dead body in the middle of the night – oh man. This isn’t good.
So here we are, hanging on a cliff, dying to see how this story unfolds. Let’s read sections 4, 5, and 6 for next Monday (May 17th). In the meantime, share your thoughts on this first part in the comments below. I’m excited to hear your observations and reactions.