Reviewer’s Note: I listened to this book on audio CDs. I don’t believe this affected my perspective on the story or the book. Also, audiobooks are a great way that everyone can participate in our book club!
House Rules is written by Jodi Picoult, a New York Times Best Selling author, and is a fictional account of an individual with an autism spectrum disorder (Asperger’s to be specific) and the criminal justice system.
Jacob is a teenager diagnosed with Asperger’s who is fascinated with forensics. Often, he is found outside of crime scenes with a composition notebook taking detailed notes. He even sets up brutal crime scenes at home (complete with fake blood) for his mother and brother to solve. While this behavior is harmless, albeit unusual, it all takes on a different tone when his social skills teacher, Jess, is found dead.
The book is told from five different perspectives: Jacob (teenage boy with autism), Emma (Jacob’s mom), Theo (Jacob’s brother), Oliver (Jacob’s Defense Attorney), and Rich (the Police Detective). The multiple perspectives are brilliantly woven together to advance the plot and leave the listener (or reader) asking themselves: Did Jacob Kill Jess?
While this is a fictional account, I felt it highlighted several of the issues that often come up when an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability gets caught up in the criminal justice system, especially if the individual appears “typical”.
Although the book focuses on the investigation and trial preparation, the reader is given insight into how the autism diagnosis affects an entire family. Several controversial issues such as the cause of autism and affordability of therapy/treatment are discussed in the context of the story.
As someone who is not a parent, but a niece, friend and advocate to people with different abilities, I found this book frustrating. Not because of the portrayal of Jacob or people with I/DD, but because of the lack of awareness in the criminal justice system. It really opened my eyes to how the system can misinterpret notions of guilt, so called incriminating behavior, comprehension of rights, confessions and/or consent.
This book made me want to quit my job and go to law school to assure that such fictionalized accounts don’t become more prevalent. It was also the reason that I was so excited to hear The Arc US a new program on this issue called The National Center on Criminal Justice & Disability.
Disclaimer: The Arc Arapahoe & Douglas Counties does not endorse or recommend any service, therapy, provider, etc., discussed in this book. This blog post is for information purposes only and reflects the opinion of the author.