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Book Review – House Rules

May 25, 2010

House Rules

by Jodi Picoult

About twenty times a day I think, “If I only I knew then what I know now.”  For example, today I thought:

  • I probably could have accomplished more at the age of 34 if I’d watched a little less MTV and studied a little more during college. 
  • I regret counting calories and not eating more french bread slathered in Nutella on my trip to Paris last year. 
  • What was I thinking when I decided to channel my inner Madonna back in the 80’s by sporting very unattractive stirrup pants and big floppy hair bows?

Considering that I have my share of regrets it probably seems odd that I also recently concluded ignorance can be bliss. 

I am a professional worrier.  I am the type of person who worries about how I’m ever going to clean the freezer if the sponge keeps sticking to it?  Or better yet, how am I going to fill up my gas tank when Ali took the gas card with him to NYC?  Since I obviously worry about the most ridiculous things, you can imagine how much more I would have freaked out about Maya if I’d known more about autism and the potential link between vaccinations and autism.

My already gray hair thanks me for not knowing.

In Jodi Picoult’s latest book House Rules: A NovelHouse Rules: A NovelHouse Rules we meet Jacob Hunt, a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.  As a high functioning autistic Jacob is brilliant academically but is unable to handle most social situations.  Among other symptoms, Jacob finds it difficult to make eye contact, to form emotional connections, and is very sensitive to things like bright lights and loud noise.  He takes everything very literally and needs order and routine in order to function.  As a coping mechanism Jacob immerses himself in the world of forensics and begins to “help” the police solve cases.  But things backfire when Jacob finds himself on trial for the murder of his social skills teacher.

As with most of this author’s work I enjoyed Jodi Picoult’s extensive research into autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.  I also found her exploration of the potential link between vaccines and autism both thought-provoking and worrisome, and her court scenes were as thorough and impressive as always.  But even I, as a non-expert, can say that the author misrepresents “aspies” throughout the book.  I mean how can someone like Jacob, with so many debilitating symptoms, still function at such a high level?  I also had issues with Jacob’s mom Emma.  It is a mystery why she never outright asked her son if he committed the crime!  And since I guessed the book’s “twist” early on in the story I was quite disappointed in the sloppy, loose ending.  For the first time I actually found myself wondering why I’d bothered to read a Jodi Picoult book at all.

I fear that Jodi Picoult is going the way of Danielle Steel, i.e. her cookie-cutter books are beginning to lack the heart and soul that made me fall in love with her writing in the first place.  While I was okay with cutting ties with Danielle Steel’s sub-par books years ago, I would definitely be sad to eliminate this talented author from my life.  I do hope she gets back on track with her next book.

What are your thoughts on the link between vaccinations and autism?  While I understand there is no concrete proof that a link exists, I definitely would have staggered Maya’s vaccinations as a precaution, knowing what I now know.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2010 2:27 pm

    maybe i should take a hint and put down the mtv habit and focus more on reading. actually i really do need to read more its quite rediculous!

    i was watching a great docu on tv.. pbs.. that was talking about this. i do in fact think there IS a link.. but i also think it must be taken at a risk.. its like a double edged sword..if we dont vaccinate there is a potential for deadly disease to become wide spread.. and if an outbreak occurs, the unvaccinated children are a direct hit and could become carriers for the disease. but then again some vaccines have harmful additives that can cause brain issues or yeast/gut disturbances which can affect their overall mental health. the key is doing what is right for your child, and what feels right as a mother/father. it truly is a tricky debate/subject!

    xoxo ❤

  2. whydeprive permalink
    May 25, 2010 3:23 pm

    Its so funny that you posted this today. I seriously just finished reading in the article about the guy who claimed there was a link between vaccinations and autism. Supposedly his research wasn’t totally legit. They found him guilty of professional misconduct and said he was dishonest and irresponsible when doing his research.

    • jack 224 permalink
      May 28, 2010 6:03 pm

      please please please do not fall into the trap of vaccine and autism link. here in the uk is where thedocter was taken to court and proved to have used incorrect results etc…please look up Ben Goldacre he write for The Guardian and is an amazing science writer. he follows many stories like this. he also has a great book called Bad Science read it!!!!

  3. May 25, 2010 3:38 pm

    I’ve heard so much about the vaccination/autism link the past couple years. I did hear about the guy who had his license revoked. I don’t really know what to think, but I do know what it’s like to be an excessive worrier!

    I have to say that I really don’t like Jodi Picoult. It may be the one thing we disagree on so far 🙂 Ha. I’ve heard her say before that she outlines her books from start to finish and never deviates. When I read them, I get that feeling. She’s very left-brained, and her stories seem too contrived to me. Obviously, she’s very successful so I’m probably somewhat alone in my opinion!

  4. May 25, 2010 5:13 pm

    I love Jodi Picoult. I’ve read 2 of her books so far, and have kind of annoyed with her twist endings. I’m about 1/3 of the way through my third Picoult book, The Plain Truth. I dont know what they twist will be yet. I’m hoping its an okay one.

    I am eager to read House Rules, because I’m quite interested in autism (ya know, with it being my sub-career and all). Children can have quite serious symptoms that limit them severely in some areas of life, but yet function quite well in other areas. It’s a very complex and confusing disorder. I’ve yet to meet to children with autism who have all the same symptoms and issues.

    And as far as the part about parents, I guess I’d have to read the book to get a feel about how she really is, but I find parents of children with autism to be… interesting. In my opinion, I don’t buy into the vaccination link. Although I’ll admit that I have no idea what causes autism, I would not be surprised if there was some sort of genetic link. I’d say that more than half of the parents Ive worked with have some social/mental issues of their own going on. Usually milder. Perhaps genetic, perhaps just something that comes with the stress of raising a child with autism? Who knows.

  5. May 25, 2010 5:38 pm

    I’ve only read Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult …and I was bawling at the end. But her other books have never appealed to me…seemed like they were more “mysteries” or something?…Thanks for the honest review.

    And great post on the Examiner 🙂

  6. May 25, 2010 5:51 pm

    That sounds just like a book I read in an English class last spring. I think it was called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

    I’m not a parent, so I can’t say that I have given vaccinating my future children much thought. However, I honestly think that any time a child is a little bit different than the norm, there is a need to label whats “wrong” with them. The same thing happened with ADHD, and now it seems that autism/Asperger’s is a new trend in overdiagnosed disorders.

  7. May 25, 2010 5:55 pm

    Good post.

    I actually am not a fan of Jodi Picoult…not my thang I guess.

    There was a doctor on the nbc news…recently lost his licence becuz he linked autism to a vaccine, etc etc…the study was not legit, etc etc…hard to say really..

    Autism spectrum disorders are tricky. In my professional training, I once observed a lot of the process where they did the “diagnosis”…yeah, well not exactly objective in my eyes..everything seem so subjective and “trial and error ” now..hard to know.

  8. May 25, 2010 5:56 pm

    I love Jodi Picoult. I’ve taken a break from her for a while, but might re-read some of her stuff again.

    I too am a ridiculous worrier. It just means we care 😉

  9. actorsdiet permalink
    May 25, 2010 6:11 pm

    god, i just realized i am worried about the same thing when it comes to cleaning out my freezer….

    i haven’t read any of jodi picoult’s books yet. they sound good, though.

    as for the autism stuff….i dunno. i know i’ll feel differently once i’m actually a mom. but it seems a lot of the moms i know are crazy worriers about everything.

  10. May 25, 2010 7:22 pm

    Since there hasn’t been a direct link to vaccinations and Autism I’m not too worried about it. I feel we as moms have too much to worry about so I’m not going to add that to my list and stress about it. It’s almost a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. So for now I know that vaccinations can protect my children and there is no proven link between autism and vaccination. I have to go with what I know rather than drive myself crazy over what I don’t know.

  11. May 25, 2010 7:26 pm

    I also am constantly thinking that I wish I could turn back the clock, or I wish I knew then what I knew now. If I could just have a complete do-over of my life, I’m convinced that I could do better. Although I know this is completely illogical, and probably not true, I often still reminisce and wish I could do things differently.

    Case in point: I also wish I wasn’t so worried about calories when I was in Paris. What a waste of precious time and energy. But all we can do is go forward, and try to enjoy life more in the future.

    Thank you for the book review. I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m usually a Picoult fan. As you say, her books are well researched and you always learn something from them. I know about autism and aspergers from studying psych, but I’m still undecided about the whole vaccine thing. I am also a huge worrier, so I would be skeptical about vaccines, but I’ve also seen repercussions of not having vaccinations. Haven’t children gotten really sick because they weren’t vaccinated? I don’t feel like I know enough about this to argue either side, but I would definitely research it a lot more before making a decision for my child.

    Ps: thank you so much for your kind words. And I also encourage you to try nutritional yeast! Yes the word yeast is kinda gross. Just call it nooch and think of it like cheese. It has a similar smell and taste to cheese, so if you were ever a fan of it, you might really like this. Any of Averie’s recipes would probably be good to start with, they are simple and very good in my experience.

  12. May 25, 2010 10:44 pm

    My chiropractor did not have his 3 children vaccinated and the children are fine. My daughter got all the vaccines and she is fine and so are her cousins. Personally I suspect it has more to do with genetics than vaccines. I really hope there is definitive scientific research on the causes of diseases. And then there could be cures.

  13. May 26, 2010 3:17 am

    I honestly don’t think there is as much of a link as it’s made out to be. Also Asperberger’s and autism wasn’t as understood in the past and wasn’t as diagnosed. I think that is the reason behind the rise in cases over the past couple of decades. Not vaccines. Plus, the ages when parents notice a social difference in their kids development would naturally fall around ages they get vaccinations, so its easy to find a culprit for the ailment and try to blame that. That’s just my view.

    I can’t wait for Jodi Picoult’s new book to become available for me at the library!

  14. May 26, 2010 4:18 am

    That’s too bad about the ending because otherwise it sounds like a pretty good book with an interesting story line. Hopefully she’ll get back on track!

  15. May 26, 2010 4:28 am

    I don’t know how moms-to-be do it. There are so many things to go wrong, I’d spend my whole pregnancy worrying. And then I’d worry that my worrying is doing bad things to the baby since I know babies of stressed-out moms have problems.

    I’m so on the fence about the vaccine-autism link. Thankfully, I don’t have to have an opinion right yet, but I can’t figure out which is more dangerous: getting a vaccine or going without.

  16. May 26, 2010 5:16 am

    I’m having trouble with the link to your examiner post.

  17. traynharder23 permalink
    May 26, 2010 5:43 am

    sadly i tried to read jodi picoult, but i just couldn’t do it! AH!

    i love reading tho! which is so crazy.

    love your review!

  18. May 26, 2010 6:49 am

    Hi Ameena, I have been reading for awhile but never commented. 🙂 I found your blog through Kim at adventuresinwanting…

    Anyway, I don’t think you should ever think that going to college to stay home with kids wasn’t necessary. Think how much more educated you are and how you can pass that on to your daughters! And be an inspiration to them too! That’s what I always think anyway. No matter what I decide about kids, I know I will be happy I went to college.

    I have to start a gluten-free diet soon as an attempt to figure out what is wrong with all my stomach issues and nerve problems (have you heard of gluten sensitive idiopathic neuropathy? – basically your intolerance to gluten causes peripheral neuropathy…I want to see if going GF helps my symptoms because the doctors arent doing much else.) So I will be interested in reading how you do it and getting ideas from you. I am scared of having to fend off family members who arent supportive.

  19. May 26, 2010 7:05 am

    I forgot to add, I tend to think the increased rate of autism is mostly due to the improvements in diagnosis/general research on it and the broadening of the spectrum. Kind of the same thing with the increased rate of autoimmune disorders – better detection and awareness. But it could be true about the vaccines…

  20. May 26, 2010 7:49 am

    I think I’m the one person in the literate world who hasn’t read Jodi Picoult. So, no comment on her work, past, present and future.
    I agree that the connection between autism and vaccinations is very tenuous, at best. The “study” received a lot of press initially, and then when the doctor and his study were debunked, people still insisted on using it to support their ideas. It doesn’t help that people actually listen to Jenny McCarthy who is not a specialist but does have a wide public and uses that platform to promote her ideas.

  21. May 26, 2010 8:00 am

    I LOVE Jodi Picoult!

    I think the reason autism is on such a high rise is due to a lot of things…including DIET!!!

  22. Jessica @ j-wood photography permalink
    May 26, 2010 10:25 am

    Uh-oh, I love Jodi Picoult. I usually cannot put her books down when I start to read them. Thank you for the honest review.

  23. May 26, 2010 10:54 am

    Great review, Ameena. I was in the bookstore today and thought about picking this book up, but decided to grab The Pact instead, and I’m really enjoying it so far. I enjoy Picoult’s writing, but I haven’t read any of her more recent works… I really hope she’s not going the way of Steele.

    And I’m kind of on the fence about vaccines. I think they’re necessary to prevent epidemics, but I also think we’re becoming a little too paranoid and vaccinating TOO much. By doing so, we’re only really weakening our immune system, and causing the viruses that we’re vaccinating against to continue to change and become stronger… I’ve read articles about how vaccines are creating superviruses, and that’s kind of scary…

  24. May 26, 2010 12:28 pm

    I have learned a lot about Autism in OT school and have gotten to interact with serveral parents of kids with Autism. Personally I believe it is a combination of factors that can bring it on and the immunizations my exaggerbate it into austism but they are probably not the sole cause or we would have some good evidence showing it by this point.

  25. traynharder23 permalink
    May 26, 2010 2:39 pm

    microbes and shit are THE DEATH OF ME! GAHHHHH.


    anyways, you’re awesome at doing the shred! LOL! you workout HARD CORE! =D

  26. May 26, 2010 6:19 pm

    I don’t know much about Asperger’s…I didn’t even know it existed until I wrote a post about my weird project partner, and many people told me he could have Asperger’s. I love Jodi Picoult’s books, but she can be so depressing sometimes…

  27. May 27, 2010 7:45 am

    As one professional worrier to another, I can relate.
    The book sounds interesting!! I’m not quite sure what to believe about vaccinations and autism but when I have a child, I do want to take whatever precautions I can!

  28. May 27, 2010 8:01 am

    wow now ya got me thinking…if i only knew then what i know now… geez…. the differences on where i would be and how i would be doing… good thought provoker!!

    autisim and vaccinations…hmm… i dont agree with vaccine to begin with… but i am pretty sure autisim is a variant human malfunction of bad evolution in the APOE2 gene…

  29. Michelle permalink
    May 27, 2010 8:15 am

    I haven’t done too much research on the possible link between Autism and vaccinations, but I know that my parents (who are doctors) and my neighbors (who have an autistic child) don’t believe there is a link. I really want to start looking this up though!

  30. June 3, 2010 8:48 pm

    I know that this post is old, but I just recently read that the doctor who fabricated the “link” between autism and vaccinations just lost his license.
    This is an interesting article about him:

  31. June 4, 2010 7:14 pm

    i just finished this book this weekend! i generally really like jodi picoult, especially her research and her style of telling the story from so many angles. i agree with you on that plot twist though. i figured it out really early and it made no sense really that his mom or brother, who knew him and his “quirks” for 18 years didnt pick up on the truth behind that “confession!”

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