Book Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Book Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

by Laurie


Most people just don’t get it right. When they write for us, about us, or to us. When it comes to others’ view of our lives in families with special needs, I’ve never seen anyone show it like it really is.*

The lack of realism, empathy (and appropriate gallows humor) is partly why I’m writing a book for special needs parents right now. It’s certainly why I’ve plowed through over 25 other titles in my research. Unbelievably, the first mainstream book I’ve found that nails what life is like as parents of a special needs child is a novelHouse Rules by Jodi Picoult (Washington Square Press, 2010).

It’s like she’s inside us. Even though not all of us here are raising kids with Asperger’s. The main character is a single mom of two teen boys, and the emotions, thoughts, joys and fears she reveals in this character will blow you away. You may even drag out the reading of the book because it will be that hard to leave behind your new best friend.

Here’s a snippet of the kinds of things this mom says in the book:

“Of course I love my son. Of course I would never want a life without him. But that doesn’t mean that I’m an not exhausted every minute of the day. That I don’t worry about his future, and my lack of one. That sometimes, before I can catch myself, I imagine what my life would have been like if Jacob did not have Asperger’s. That – like Atlas – I think just for once it would be nice to have someone else bear the weight of my family’s world on his shoulders, instead of me” (p. 225).

“Isolation. A fixation on one particular subject. An inability to connect socially. [My son] was the one diagnosed, but I might as well have Asperger’s too” (p. 42).

“Instead of dreaming a miracle, you learn to make your own” (p. 439).

Are you hearing yourself in there too?

The second quote leaped from the page the day I read it. I’d just returned from a weekend of extended family events with high expectations on me and the kids. We generally run the opposite direction from those events, but since it was my little brother’s wedding, that wasn’t really an option. After 2 solid days of keeping my 9 year old’s tics, mood swings, and impulsivity at bay, exhausted was an understatement. I stepped back at one point, in the middle of railing on my husband for something inane, and realized that if someone shoved a mirror in front of me just then, I’d be sure it was my daughter’s reflection in it!

And the first and last quotes resonate just about every day of my life in this family.

The resonating isn’t where the enjoyment ends, either. Jodi Picoult wrote other titles you might have heard of: My Sister’s Keeper, Keeping Faith, and about 16 others. She’s an amazing writer and the plots are so complex! It was complete entertainment mixed with a sense of being known and understood.

I know none of us have a spare moment to be reading fiction in our busy lives. But if you need a mental health break in the midst of it all, I think you’d love this book!

What are you reading lately?


*(Well, that’s almost true. For adoption/attachment issues, the other most-realistic-book award goes to Daniel Hughes’ Building Bonds of Attachment. But that’s a pretty specific special needs niche!)

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Email Author    |    Website About Laurie

I'm a wife and mom of four girls - two with bipolar, ADHD and developmental delays. It's a daily journey to live this life well and help my girls do the same. As a speaker and life coach, I'm committed to helping other parents thrive in this wild ride too!

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1 Chana November 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm

I read the book, too, but I didn’t understand why, if they knew he had Asperger’s, they didn’t just ask him if he had done the crime. Even if his mother didn’t want to know (I would want to know), you’d think the other lawyer would think of just asking him.

So I actually left the book with the feeling that the author didn’t really understand the disability.

2 Debbye November 1, 2011 at 11:34 pm

I wish I had time to read a book! This one is the one I will remember to pick up should life calm down any time soon. 🙂

3 Jo November 2, 2011 at 7:07 am

Thanks for this Laurie. I started it buit didn’t finish because something got in the way. However I will go back to it.
I have read some of her books. One I like but is tough to read because of the huge questions it raises is “Handle with Care”. Actually my Mom suggested it to me as it gaves very good, ture insight to family lie with a child with special needs. How it impacts on all the relationships in the family.

4 Dianna Kennedy November 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I do enjoy reading Jodi Picoult, but I find the themes to be heart wrenching at times ….. I can only handle reading her work in small spurts. I haven’t read anything by her in a while. Perhaps this selection needs to make it back on my list.

Well written review!

I’m sticking to some lighter stuff as of late …. just finished How to Tuck in a SuperHero, and loved it, as a mom of boys!

5 Judy November 8, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Actually, if you don’t have a lot of time to read, this is the perfect book for you. It’s a quick read. It doesn’t look that way, all 600ish pages of it, but there is a lot of empty space on the pages between the chapters/characters. It’s not as long as it looks and you can stop at any chapter.

I really enjoyed the book as well, though I found the mom’s actions a little hard to swallow. We know our kids inside and out. We spend all day interpreting for them and helping them communicate with the rest of the world. She would have known the right questions to ask her son right from the start to get to the truth. We do it a million times a day. Of course, then there wouldn’t have been any book.

Are you writing fiction that includes a character with autism?

Would you share what other books you’ve read in preparation?

Happy reading!

6 Laurie November 11, 2011 at 12:50 am

Glad you enjoyed the book too! I just finished another of hers – Change of Heart – that the little girl in the story has a heart condition. She seems to do special needs issues well, despite not having them in her own family.

As for my book, no, it’s not fiction. It’s a book on overcoming stress, anger, fatigue and loneliness as parents of kids with neuropsych special needs. I’ve read so many books that tell us we need to take care of ourselves, but don’t spend much time on how. Have you seen any that really deal with our emotional and mental health as the parents?

In any case, as a life coach and fellow parent raising two kids with bipolar and spectrum-similar issues, I felt it was needed. I just signed with a literary agent and it’s an exciting process to begin!

7 Judy November 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Wow, Laurie, Congratulations on the book deal. That is awesome. I too have read a lot of books on how to help with our kids, but you’re right, not many say what we should do to care for ourselves. Our focus is always them. I have only read 1 written to the parent, called More than a Mom by A Baskin and H. Fawcett. They remind us we need to get a life of our own separate from our kids. We should have some friends and/or work that isn’t connected to them. They give some ideas on how to that. They also talk about our health, exercise and eating well. That’s also easy to ignore, isn’t it?

Are going to incorporate your blog into the book?

You’re a life coach as well? How did you get into that?

Have a wonderful day.

8 Lauri November 30, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I have this book on my bedside table! I have put off reading it because hesitant that it might not be that accurate and end up being more irritating than interesting. Great recommendation- I will start it tonight!

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