Emma Hunt is a single mother of two teen-aged boys. Jacob, the older of the two, has Asperger’s Syndrome. Fifteen year old Theo does not. Their mother has established “house rules,” which include “Tell the Truth” and “Take care of your brother; he’s the only one you’ve got.” Because of his syndrome, Jacob likes and needs rules and is very, very good at following them. At one point, Jacob asks his mother if she also has to follow the rules, and she says Yes. Being literal, Jacob responds, “But you don’t have a brother.”
Jacob’s tendency to see the world in black and white, and being very literal, is a big part of the story of Emma, Jacob and Theo. The three of them, as well as Rich, a detective, and Oliver, their attorney, share the events of “House Rules,” along with other background material from their lives. Jacob’s involvement with a “social skills” tutor and his obsession with crime scene investigation leads to his arrest for murder. Jacob’s inability to go beyond answering questions only specifically, not being able to perceive what you might really need to know, makes the investigation and trial last a bit longer than they ought. The truth is revealed at the end, and again, all’s well that ends well. I was reading hurriedly through the last few chapters, longing for everyone to know the truth. I did, however, find myself missing the reactions of the judge, prosecutor, detective, parents of the deceased, etc. to the true story. Maybe Ms. Picoult was just tired of writing, and decided to leave that to our imagination. I’m sure there would have still be doubts and questions by everyone involved.
The most interesting part of the novel is Jacob and Emma and Theo dealing with Asperger’s on a daily basis. I actually found myself relating to Jacob from time to time. He also reminded me of the two fellas I live with. I also wonder if the Jacobs of this world aren’t really the “normal” ones and it is the rest of us that have issues. Emma, as the mother, definitely had her struggles, but so many of those were brought on by the reactions of those around them. Jacob made me laugh often at his very reasonable responses to what he was being taught was proper social etiquette. He did frustrate me when he wouldn’t tell them the complete story of what happened when he got to Jess’s house. But they didn’t ask, did they?
After Jacob’s arrest for murder, Emma homeschools both boys. The coolest part for me, being a homeschooling mother, was that the boys both loved it. Jacob says, “I wonder why we never thought of this before: learning without socialization. It’s every Aspie’s dream.” That made me smile and cringe at the same time, knowing that anti-HSing people love to bring up socialization. Theo begins his chapter on their new life with “If a school day is seven hours long, six of those are eaten up by blocks of time that are full of nothing but crap: teachers yelling at kids who misbehave, gossip as you walk to your locker, recap of a math concept you understood the first time it was explained. What being homeschooled has taught me, more than anything, is what a waste of a life high school is.”
Perhaps “House Rules” is really Theo’s story. He’s the one dealing with a brother with Asperger’s, being shut out by normal kids who don’t want to be around him because of his brother. Theo has to deal with the unfairness of all that, and has a love/hate relationship with his brother. In the end, however, you see that both Theo and Jacob have obeyed the rule to take care of their brother. Jacob is proud that he has shown that an “Aspie” can feel empathy and think of someone other than himself. I think I would like to be friends with Theo and Jacob and would definitely be proud to call them my sons.