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What would you do if you were obsessed with crime?

Jacob Hunt, the principal character in Jodi Picoult’s latest novel House Rules, has this addiction. He watches CSI shows religiously, fabricates his own crime scenes in his home, and crashes real crime scenes after listening into local police frequencies.

The only problem is, Jacob can’t help himself. His autism won’t allow him to let go of his fascination and lead a normal life, even when it gets him into serious trouble.

Picoult’s moving book follows the lives of Jacob, his mother, and his younger brother as they all struggle to cope with Jacob’s disability and blend in with normal society. None of them were able to retain close friends die to Jacob’s inability to carry out typical conversations or function in the real world as most people do. Jacob cannot look people in the eyes without feeling severely uncomfortable, nor can he control himself when something does not go his way, often resulting in full-blown tantrums in the middle of public places. Average people in their Vermont hometown avoid the Hunt family like the plague. Unable to understand Jacob and those who love him, they simply distance themselves and label him as “different.”

But the real problem with this label arises when police misinterpret Jacob’s differences for guilt after he comes under suspicion for murdering his social skills tutor. His unwillingness to answer questions, fidgety nature, and avoidance of eye contact all lead the police to believe that they have found their culprit. Running through the novel is the burning question – are these signs only of Jacob’s disability, or did he truly commit murder?

Sibling rivalry doesn’t even begin to cover the relationship between Jacob and his brother Theo. Though three years younger, Theo constantly has to step into the role of the older sibling when it comes to things like making sure Jacob does not get picked on at school or remembering their mother’s birthday.

Theo is continuously overlooked because their mother has to put most of her time and energy into caring for Jacob. Theo often did not receive sufficient birthday gifts because all extra money had to go to Jacob’s treatments and psychiatrists. All food in their house must be prepared according to Jacob’s gluten- and dairy-free diet. Luxuries like pizza and ice cream are nonexistent in Jacob’s – and therefore Theo’s – life. It is no wonder then that Theo finds it extremely difficult to abide by his mother’s house rule: “Protect your brother. He’s the only one you’ve got.”

Faced now with more hardship than they have ever had to endure before, the Hunt family must not only fight society, but also the court system to prove Jacob innocent of the heinous crime without letting the disability tear them apart.

Jodi Picoult masterfully crafts a tale of an average family with average problems gone seriously wrong. Any mother can relate to Jacob’s, even though she has much more on her plate than others. Her intense love for her son as she so vehemently battles to keep him out of prison is apparent on every page.

Her desire to lead a normal life that she will never have is also painfully poignant. The scenes where she encounters her ex-husband set the reader’s nerves on edge. Her reminisces about what could have been and all her white-picket-fence dreams that never came to fruition will undoubtedly bring a tear to even the most hard-hearted person’s eye.

Warning: do not begin this book if you have too much to do with finals hanging over your head. Picoult’s characters and her intricate plot will be stuck in your head until you have turned the last page.

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