House Rules: A Novel

Hardcover | March 2, 2010

byJodi Picoult

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The astonishing new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult about a family torn apart by an accusation of murder.

They tell me I’m lucky to have a son who’s so verbal, who is blisteringly intelligent, who can take apart the busted microwave and have it working again an hour later. They think there is no greater hell than having a son who is locked in his own world, unaware that there’s a wider one to explore. But try having a son who is locked in his own world, and still wants to make a connection. A son who tries to be like everyone else, but truly doesn’t know how.

Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject—in his case, forensic analysis. He’s always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do…and he’s usually right. But then one day his tutor is found dead, and the police come to question him. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger’s—not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches—can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob finds himself accused of murder.

Emotionally powerful from beginning to end, House Rules looks at what it means to be different in our society, how autism affects a family, and how our legal system works well for people who communicate a certain way—and fails those who don’t.

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The astonishing new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult about a family torn apart by an accusation of murder.They tell me I’m lucky to have a son who’s so verbal, who is blisteringly intelligent, who can take apart the busted microwave and have it working again an hour later. They think there is no greater hell...

Jodi Picoult grew up in Nesconset, New York. She received an B.A. in creative writing from Princeton, and a master's degree in education from Harvard. She is a bestselling author of fifteen novels. Her latest one, number 16, entitled Handle With Care, is sure to become a best seller as well. Most recently she wrote five issues of the W...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:544 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 1.5 inPublished:March 2, 2010Publisher:Atria BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0743296435

ISBN - 13:9780743296434

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Frustrating Read I found reading this novel to be incredibly frustrating. Repeatedly Picoult reminds us that her character is very literal and yet no one asks the literal question in the novel. It is as if her characters could talk the talk but completely failed to walk the walk. Some of the characteristics the character of Jacob portrayed were problematic and not consistent with an Asperger's diagnosis. Overall, the story was somewhat entertaining, though completely predictable, and a first step in better understanding Aperger's. Unfortunately, it is only a first step and shows that a person who does research on Asperger's is not always able to best depict the intricacies of such a sophisticated neurological condition.
Date published: 2014-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better understanding of Asperger's The first time I read Jodi Picoult was through my daughter who's son has Aspergers. I found "House Rules" very informative. However, for me it wasn't a fast read - I wanted to connect with the characters and I also wanted a better understanding of Aspergers. So I really had to concentrate. I greatly enjoyed the story line - couldn't wait to see the ending. Since then I've read more of her books and have become as fan!
Date published: 2014-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Story I have read only two books by Jodi Picoult, and both books were very good. This book was extremely good. The story line was amazing, I could hardly put the book down! I never really knew what Asberger's syndrom was until I read this story. It brought a whole new perspective of understanding what happens to a person with Asbergers. The book was well written and well thought out! I loved it!
Date published: 2013-07-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Tough One to Pin Down I knew it was only a matter of time before Jodi Picoult wrote a book about Autism. She tackles all the polarizing issues and the horrifying conditions that make people unique. So I wasn't surprised when I found out she was writing a book about Autism. However, I still found myself nervous and hesitant to read this book. This was the first time I'd actually had first-hand experience with the thing she was writing about. Because of this, I had a different experience with this book. I went into it with outside knowledge and pre-formed opinions. I don't think this was entirely good or entirely bad, but I feel like I probably enjoyed the book a little less than I normally would because I could poke holes in what she was saying. In spite of that, I did still come to care for the characters she created, particularly Theo. Emma's struggle was heartbreaking and I really felt for her, although there were times when I found myself mad at her. But I have to agree with the reviewer that said Picoult kind of beat the Asperger's thing to death. I appreciate that she wanted to bring awareness to this condition, but towards the end of the book, with discussion after discussion of the traits of Aspie kids and how that makes them different but really they're amazing kids and everyone just needs to be more tolerant, even I, someone to whom Autism is a condition close to my heart, started to get annoyed. I might be biased because of my history, or maybe it's because I follow her on Twitter and I've started to notice she does this there too, but she came off a little preachy here. The ending was predictable, but I don't think this was supposed to be one of those books with a twist ending. I think Picoult had other goals with House Rules. Overall, it wasn't a bad book, and I wouldn't discourage someone from reading it. I just wish a few things had been done differently so that I could have enjoyed it more.
Date published: 2013-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Predicable ending but Amazing story I just finished reading this book and it really makes you think about how different the world is through the eyes of someone with a mental condition and how different their way of showing love is. You really got to see into the mind of the characters and see how life is for the family of someone who has a mental -as they say-"Quirk". Though the ending was predicable for me it was still an amazing read!
Date published: 2013-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Book ! This is the first book I have read from Jodi Picoult, my friend recommended her and she was right to. No there are no big twists and turns to the story which is great because it makes the story even more realistic. I don't find that in this book a big twist would've been appropriate, she is a brilliant writer and she did an awesome job with this novel. Everything about the book was researched, you get to learn so much about asperger's syndrome and also you see all the characters points of view which I really enjoyed. I loved to read the different explanations from every character I found it was great because we got to see how each of them was feeling. This story is filled with emotion, love, courage, strength, dedication, brotherly love, family, and lots more. It is a great read and Picoult got me hooked from the beginning, I just wanted more and to learn more about this family and about Asperger's.
Date published: 2012-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good read Detailed and very well researched. Picoult is a very well rouded and informed author. The book is a very good read.
Date published: 2010-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from an amazing book! i thought that was one of Picoults best books. this book shows a =n author that puts her heart and soul into finding out specific facts about aspergers syndrome. In Picoults books, you always learn something new, wether it is about a disease or just a simple fun fact . there is always something to learn. I highly reccomend this book for 13 and up
Date published: 2010-08-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK This was a decent read but I found it boring and dull at various points. I was hoping for a nice twist or something unexpected to happen but it didn't. What I thought happened (after reading the first few chapters) was how the story played out. The best part of the book is the descriptions of Jacob and how Asperger's affects a child and their family. Other than that, the novel wasn't anything special and I won't be recommending it to friends.
Date published: 2010-08-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great writer. I always enjoy reading Jodi Picoult's work. It is well written. She says what she wants to say and is a very interesting read every time. This book House Rules was great as usual. However, it was overly done describing Jacob's condition, symptoms and acting out. I feel this book could have easily been 8 chapters shorter and would have been successfully telling the same story. Usually Jodi doesn't go over board with the details. This book, she got carried away with details, details, details, over and over and over. However, it was a good read and i would recommend it.
Date published: 2010-06-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Another Win for Picoult I have read all of Jodi Picoult's books - and I have enjoyed every one of them. This book centres on Jacob, an 18-year-old man/boy who has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. He is fascinated by forensic science and he follows rules. When he is charged with murder, his mother and lawyer work to use his illness to keep him out of prison. The chapters of the book are told from the perspective of about five people, one of whom is Jacob. Picoult always does a lot of research for her books, so her chapters told from Jacob's perspective are most interesting, troubling, and enlightening. To be trapped in such a way is hard to imagine. I found this book to be well written and immensely interesting. Another win for Picoult.
Date published: 2010-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Captivating, and Amazing Story! This is the Newest Book by Jodi Picoult. This Book just proved even more what an amazing author picoult is, and why her books always land on the "Best-Sellers" list. I love Picoult's style of writing, Every character speaks, and you get to learn all sides of the story. Emma Hunt is a hard working, Single mother, just barely making ends meet for her family. Emma has 2 Sons, 15 year old, Theo, and 18 year old, Jacob who has Aspergers Syndrom. Jacob has a strong passion for Forensic Science, and loves staging make-belief crime scenes to see if his mother can crack the cases. Jacob even owns a Police Scanner and can't help but arrive to crime scenes uninvited trying to help the poice solve the crime. But one Dark day on January 12, 2010, The small town of Townsend is rattled with the murder of Jess Ogilvy, a young college student, and it doesn't take long for the police to turn to Jacob but not for his help...For his arrest. Jacob is now being accused and sent to trial for her murder. Did he Do it? The outcome leaves the Hunt Family with answers they never would have imagined. This book had me hooked from beginning to end. I couldn't put it down, and Each new phase of the book is more intense then the last. Jodi Picoult blew me away with "House Rules" It is full of emotion, and strangely enough, Comedy. This book had a great twist, something that is a trademark with picoult. I loved House Rules, and I would recommend it to anyone.
Date published: 2010-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from CAPTIVATING FROM START TO FINISH This book was so worth the read. I have a sister with a son who has autism and I've often wondered exactly what her life must be like. This book gave me that glimpse inside their lives - to a degree. And better still - it gave me a glimpse into what it is like for my sister raising her son, and for his siblings as well. I also LOVE a "WHO DONE IT" murder mystery and this book definitely fit the bill! Brilliantly written, I found myself laughing out loud, and crying out loud too. Amazing book.
Date published: 2010-05-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Accurate But.... Overall, I liked the book because I felt the author accurately portrayed what it is like to live with an Asperger's child. Although all children with Asperger's are different, they all have rituals, things they obssess about, things they have to do, things that set them off. My son, for example, will NOT wear a shirt without a number. She presents the challenges and frustration of dealing with this type of child, yet balances that with the fierce protection and pride that you also have for them and their amazing abilities. I did find aspects of it to be a little far fetched in that the son who is supposed to be neurotypical but seems to be lacking in guilt. I was disappointed in the ending and felt she actually did a disservice to Jacob by the last line.
Date published: 2010-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from House Rules Excellent as usual. My full review here
Date published: 2010-05-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not her best work! Although I appreciate the work that must have gone into the research for this book about Asperger's Syndrome, this is not Jodi's best work by far. I guessed from the first that the ending would be like it was, but was compelled to read it all to find out -- the book was expensive enough to do so. I still love her style of writing from each "voice" and I do have a friend whose daughter has a little boy with high-functioning autism, similar to the boy in this story and can sympathize, of course, with parents who have to deal with it. It is true that it can ruin a good marriage, but then so can lack of money, inlaw problems, and a million other things... it seems in the end this marriage wasn't so hot to begin with. Despite this review, I look forward to Jodi's next book...
Date published: 2010-04-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed!! I have read several of Jodi Picoults novels and i found this one slightly disappointing. The crime was way too predictable as i had it figured out what had actually happened as i was reading what happened to Jess. I was hoping that there would be a twist of some kind and was disappointed that there wasnt one. However, the story about the family and how they cope with a child with a disability is wonderfully written. I probably would not recommend this book though it needed a better twist.
Date published: 2010-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read This was a much waited for book and I am glad that I got it and finished it within 2 days. Set in Jodie Picoult's great writing style and always with a twist somewhere in the story --I found it hard to put down and enjoyed every page. Well worth buying!
Date published: 2010-04-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good read Kept me engaged the whole time. The last part of the book was a bit predictable. Author weaved in some of the judicial, medical with a personal story. Reminded me of My sister's keeper stylewise.
Date published: 2010-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of Jodi Picoult's Best! Readers, especially fans of Jodi Picoult will not be disappointed with"House Rules". It gives insight into what it's like for someone with Asperger's Syndrome as well as for people living with someone with Asperger's. I also know a parent of a boy with this problem and she claims that this is what she lives with every day, it is that accurate. Reading this book really made me want to learn more about Asperger's. A great read!
Date published: 2010-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic!!! As usual I was not disappointed with another one of Jodi's novels. I will be waiting patiently for her next one. I found this book so very interesting as I have a grandson with Autism and could relate to her storytelling. Thank-you for such an awesome read.
Date published: 2010-03-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Misrepresents Asperger's As a person with Asperger's I am dismayed with Picoult's portrayal of an adult with Asperger's Syndrome. Picoult starts off by showing us all the sources she has used for her research but once one starts reading it is obvious she is so full of research she doesn't know what to do with it. She has taken every possible symptom of both Asperger's and autism (which are two different diagnoses) and put them all into the character of Jacob. Not only is Jacob loaded down with every single symptom, each of his symptoms are of the most extreme variety. A real-life 'aspie' (as we call ourselves) will have some, perhaps even many, but certainly not all textbook examples, of the symptoms and then they are at varying degrees. What Picoult has done here is a disservice to the Asperger's community. From the mother: "Since there's no cure yet for Asperger's, we treat the symptoms ...". Asperger's is not a disease or an illness! There is no cure because one is not needed. Just from reading the positive reviews of this book I see the word "illness" being used over and over to describe Asperger's and that is because the book has left readers unfamiliar with AS with that impression. I could sit here and write an essay refuting all the quotes on the dog-eared pages I created while reading, but I won't. If you want a realistic view of a young man with Asperger's I urge you to read the book "Marcelo in the Real World" by Francisco X. Stork. The main character is 17 years old and is very comparable to Jacob only the author has done an excellent job in portraying Asperger's, showing the struggles we face but also shows that we do indeed function and do not need anyone's sympathy. BTW, I did give the book 2 stars because if I removed the whole Asperger's element I thought the mystery was quite interesting with a fun little twist to the solution.
Date published: 2010-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must read! Jodi Picoult delivers yet another great book! Anyone who knows and loves someone with Austism has to read this! Some of it is told from the perspective of an 18 year old young man with Aspergers and really explains what goes on inside their minds. It also delves into the effects that Autism has on family and caregivers.
Date published: 2010-03-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great! Jodi Picoult has done it yet again. She has created a wonderful novel as beautifully written as it is thought provoking. I love Picoults style and am constantly thrilled by her work. This is a must read for anyone who enjoys Picoults brand of thought based fiction. That being said I feel that some of Jodi's other books are better reads then this one. The ending felt a little rushed and thrown together despite the fact that the rest of the book was so well constructed. The Pact. My Sisters Keeper, and Nineteen Minutes still hold their place as my favourite amongest her works. But this book definutely held its own and it is still in my opinion worth the time. Enjoy all!
Date published: 2010-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Loved this Book This was my First book I have read by Jodi and I loved it. She has a unique way of writing. You do learn allot about Aspergers, but she keeps you very interested in the story line also. Its a great court room drama, could be a great movie! I plan to read all of her books now!!!
Date published: 2010-03-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from entertaining and informative This story is about an 18 year old boy, who has Aspergers Syndrome, and his family. There is a lot of information in the book about aspergers and its effects. The reader is able to see the world from a literal point of view and see how someone who has Aspergers has trouble fitting into a world of metaphors and shades of gray. As for the storyline, it was very predictable. I had the story figured out after reading the first few chapters. There were no surprises. I enjoyed the book but I do not reccommend it if you are looking for an excitment filled read. Anyone who is a current fan of Jodi Picoult will get what they expect I think.
Date published: 2010-03-08

Extra Content

Read from the Book

House Rules 1 Emma Everywhere I look, there are signs of a struggle. The mail has been scattered all over the kitchen floor; the stools are overturned. The phone has been knocked off its pedestal, its battery pack hanging loose from an umbilicus of wires. There’s one single faint footprint at the threshold of the living room, pointing toward the dead body of my son, Jacob. He is sprawled like a starfish in front of the fireplace. Blood covers his temple and his hands. For a moment, I can’t move, can’t breathe. Suddenly, he sits up. “Mom,” Jacob says, “you’re not even trying.” This is not real, I remind myself, and I watch him lie back down in the exact same position—on his back, his legs twisted to the left. “Um, there was a fight,” I say. Jacob’s mouth barely moves. “And . . . ?” “You were hit in the head.” I get down on my knees, like he’s told me to do a hundred times, and notice the crystal clock that usually sits on the mantel now peeking out from beneath the couch. I gingerly pick it up and see blood on the corner. With my pinkie, I touch the liquid and then taste it. “Oh, Jacob, don’t tell me you used up all my corn syrup again—” “Mom! Focus!” I sink down on the couch, cradling the clock in my hands. “Robbers came in, and you fought them off.” Jacob sits up and sighs. The food dye and corn syrup mixture has matted his dark hair; his eyes are shining, even though they won’t meet mine. “Do you honestly believe I’d execute the same crime scene twice?” He unfolds a fist, and for the first time I see a tuft of corn silk hair. Jacob’s father is a towhead—or at least he was when he walked out on us fifteen years ago, leaving me with Jacob and Theo, his brand-new, blond baby brother. “Theo killed you?” “Seriously, Mom, a kindergartner could have solved this case,” Jacob says, jumping to his feet. Fake blood drips down the side of his face, but he doesn’t notice; when he is intensely focused on crime scene analysis, I think a nuclear bomb could detonate beside him and he’d never flinch. He walks toward the footprint at the edge of the carpet and points. Now, at second glance, I notice the waffle tread of the Vans skateboarding sneakers that Theo saved up to buy for months, and the latter half of the company logo—NS—burned into the rubber sole. “There was a confrontation in the kitchen,” Jacob explains. “It ended with the phone being thrown in defense, and me being chased into the living room, where Theo clocked me.” At that, I have to smile a little. “Where did you hear that term?” “CrimeBusters, episode forty-three.” “Well, just so you know—it means to punch someone. Not hit them with an actual clock.” Jacob blinks at me, expressionless. He lives in a literal world; it’s one of the hallmarks of his diagnosis. Years ago, when we were moving to Vermont, he asked what it was like. Lots of green, I said, and rolling hills. At that, he burst into tears. Won’t they hurt us? he said. “But what’s the motive?” I ask, and on cue, Theo thunders down the stairs. “Where’s the freak?” he yells. “Theo, you will not call your brother—” “How about I stop calling him a freak when he stops stealing things out of my room?” I have instinctively stepped between him and his brother, although Jacob is a head taller than both of us. “I didn’t steal anything from your room,” Jacob says. “Oh, really? What about my sneakers?” “They were in the mudroom,” Jacob qualifies. “Retard,” Theo says under his breath, and I see a flash of fire in Jacob’s eyes. “I am not retarded,” he growls, and he lunges for his brother. I hold him off with an outstretched arm. “Jacob,” I say, “you shouldn’t take anything that belongs to Theo without asking for his permission. And Theo, I don’t want to hear that word come out of your mouth again, or I’m going to take your sneakers and throw them out with the trash. Do I make myself clear?” “I’m outta here,” Theo mutters, and he stomps toward the mudroom. A moment later I hear the door slam. I follow Jacob into the kitchen and watch him back into a corner. “What we got here,” Jacob mutters, his voice a sudden drawl, “is . . . failure to communicate.” He crouches down, hugging his knees. When he cannot find the words for how he feels, he borrows someone else’s. These come from Cool Hand Luke; Jacob remembers the dialogue from every movie he’s ever seen. I’ve met so many parents of kids who are on the low end of the autism spectrum, kids who are diametrically opposed to Jacob, with his Asperger’s. They tell me I’m lucky to have a son who’s so verbal, who is blisteringly intelligent, who can take apart the broken microwave and have it working again an hour later. They think there is no greater hell than having a son who is locked in his own world, unaware that there’s a wider one to explore. But try having a son who is locked in his own world and still wants to make a connection. A son who tries to be like everyone else but truly doesn’t know how. I reach out to comfort him but stop myself—a light touch can set Jacob off. He doesn’t like handshakes or pats on the back or someone ruffling his hair. “Jacob,” I begin, and then I realize that he isn’t sulking at all. He holds up the telephone receiver he’s been hunched over, so that I can see the smudge of black on the side. “You missed a fingerprint, too,” Jacob says cheerfully. “No offense, but you would make a lousy crime scene investigator.” He rips a sheet of paper towel off the roll, dampens it in the sink. “Don’t worry, I’ll clean up all the blood.” “You never did tell me Theo’s motive for killing you.” “Oh.” Jacob glances over his shoulder, a wicked grin spreading across his face. “I stole his sneakers.” *   *   * In my mind, Asperger’s is a label to describe not the traits Jacob has but rather the ones he lost. It was sometime around two years old when he began to drop words, to stop making eye contact, to avoid connections with people. He couldn’t hear us, or he didn’t want to. One day I looked at him, lying on the floor beside a Tonka truck. He was spinning its wheels, his face only inches away, and I thought, Where have you gone? I made excuses for his behavior: the reason he huddled in the bottom of the grocery cart every time we went shopping was that it was cold in the supermarket. The tags I had to cut out of his clothing were unusually scratchy. When he could not seem to connect with any children at his preschool, I organized a no-holds-barred birthday party for him, complete with water balloons and Pin the Tail on the Donkey. About a half hour into the celebration, I suddenly realized that Jacob was missing. I was six months pregnant and hysterical—other parents began to search the yard, the street, the house. I was the one who found him, sitting in the basement, repeatedly inserting and ejecting a VCR tape. When he was diagnosed, I burst into tears. Remember, this was back in 1995; the only experience I’d had with autism was Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. According to the psychiatrist we first met, Jacob suffered from an impairment in social communication and behavior, without the language deficit that was a hallmark of other forms of autism. It wasn’t until years later that we even heard the word Asperger’s—it just wasn’t on anyone’s diagnostic radar yet. But by then, I’d had Theo, and Henry—my ex—had moved out. He was a computer programmer who worked at home and couldn’t stand the tantrums Jacob would throw when the slightest thing set him off: a bright light in the bathroom, the sound of the UPS truck coming down the gravel driveway, the texture of his breakfast cereal. By then, I’d completely devoted myself to Jacob’s early intervention therapists—a parade of people who would come to our house intent on dragging him out of his own little world. I want my house back, Henry told me. I want you back. But I had already noticed how, with the behavioral therapy and speech therapy, Jacob had begun to communicate again. I could see the improvement. Given that, there wasn’t even a choice to make. The night Henry left, Jacob and I sat at the kitchen table and played a game. I made a face, and he tried to guess which emotion went with it. I smiled, even though I was crying, and waited for Jacob to tell me I was happy. Henry lives with his new family in the Silicon Valley. He works for Apple and he rarely speaks to the boys, although he sends a check faithfully every month for child support. But then again, Henry was always good with organization. And numbers. His ability to memorize a New York Times article and quote it verbatim—which had seemed so academically sexy when we were dating—wasn’t all that different from the way Jacob could memorize the entire TV schedule by the time he was six. It wasn’t until years after Henry was gone that I diagnosed him with a dash of Asperger’s, too. There’s a lot of fuss about whether or not Asperger’s is on the autism spectrum, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter. It’s a term we use to get Jacob the accommodations he needs in school, not a label to explain who he is. If you met him now, the first thing you’d notice is that he might have forgotten to change his shirt from yesterday or to brush his hair. If you talk to him, you’ll have to be the one to start the conversation. He won’t look you in the eye. And if you pause to speak to someone else for a brief moment, you might turn back to find that Jacob’s left the room. *   *   * Saturdays, Jacob and I go food shopping. It’s part of his routine, which means we rarely stray from it. Anything new has to be introduced early on and prepared for—whether that’s a dentist appointment or a vacation or a transfer student joining his math class midyear. I knew that he’d have his faux crime scene completely cleaned up before eleven o’clock, because that’s when the Free Sample Lady sets up her table in the front of the Townsend Food Co-op. She recognizes Jacob by sight now and usually gives him two mini egg rolls or bruschetta rounds or whatever else she’s plying that week. Theo’s not back, so I’ve left him a note—although he knows the schedule as well as I do. By the time I grab my coat and purse, Jacob is already sitting in the backseat. He likes it there, because he can spread out. He doesn’t have a driver’s license, although we argue about it regularly, since he’s eighteen and was eligible to get his license two years ago. He knows all the mechanical workings of a traffic light, and could probably take one apart and put it back together, but I am not entirely convinced that in a situation where there were several other cars zooming by in different directions, he’d be able to remember whether to stop or go at any given intersection. “What do you have left for homework?” I ask, as we pull out of the driveway. “Stupid English.” “English isn’t stupid,” I say. “Well, my English teacher is.” He makes a face. “Mr. Franklin assigned an essay about our favorite subject, and I wanted to write about lunch, but he won’t let me.” “Why not?” “He says lunch isn’t a subject.” I glance at him. “It isn’t.” “Well,” Jacob says, “it’s not a predicate, either. Shouldn’t he know that?” I stifle a smile. Jacob’s literal reading of the world can be, depending on the circumstances, either very funny or very frustrating. In the rearview mirror, I see him press his thumb against the car window. “It’s too cold for fingerprints,” I say offhandedly—a fact he’s taught me. “But do you know why?” “Um.” I look at him. “Evidence breaks down when it’s below freezing?” “Cold constricts the sweat pores,” Jacob says, “so excretions are reduced, and that means matter won’t stick to the surface and leave a latent print on the glass.” “That was my second guess,” I joke. I used to call him my little genius, because even when he was small he’d spew forth an explanation like that one. I remember once, when he was four, he was reading the sign for a doctor’s office when the postman walked by. The guy couldn’t stop staring, but then again, it’s not every day you hear a preschooler pronounce the word gastroenterology, clear as a bell. I pull into the parking lot. I ignore a perfectly good parking spot because it happens to be next to a shiny orange car, and Jacob doesn’t like the color orange. I can feel him draw in his breath and hold it until we drive past. We get out of the car, and Jacob runs for a cart; then we walk inside. The spot that the Free Sample Lady usually occupies is empty. “Jacob,” I say immediately, “it’s not a big deal.” He looks at his watch. “It’s eleven-fifteen. She comes at eleven and leaves at twelve.” “Something must have happened.” “Bunion surgery,” calls an employee, who is stacking packages of carrots within earshot. “She’ll be back in four weeks.” Jacob’s hand begins to flap against his leg. I glance around the store, mentally calculating whether it would cause more of a scene to try to get Jacob out of here before the stimming turns into a full-blown breakdown or whether I can talk him through this. “You know how Mrs. Pinham had to leave school for three weeks when she got shingles, and she couldn’t tell you beforehand? This is the same thing.” “But it’s eleven-fifteen,” Jacob says. “Mrs. Pinham got better, right? And everything went back to normal.” By now, the carrot man is staring at us. And why shouldn’t he? Jacob looks like a totally normal young man. He’s clearly intelligent. But having his day disrupted probably makes him feel the same way I would if I was suddenly told to bungee off the top of the Sears Tower. When a low growl rips through Jacob’s throat, I know we are past the point of no return. He backs away from me, into a shelf full of pickle jars and relishes. A few bottles fall to the floor, and the breaking glass sends him over the edge. Suddenly Jacob is screaming—one high, keening note that is the soundtrack of my life. He moves blindly, striking out at me when I reach for him. It is only thirty seconds, but thirty seconds can last forever when you are the center of everyone’s scrutiny; when you are wrestling your six-foot-tall son down to the linoleum floor and pinning him with your full body weight, the only kind of pressure that can soothe him. I press my lips close to his ear. “I shot the sheriff,” I sing. “But I didn’t shoot no deputy . . .” Since he was little, those Bob Marley lyrics have soothed him. There were times I played that song twenty-four hours a day just to keep him calm; even Theo knew all the verses before he was three. Sure enough, the tension seeps out of Jacob’s muscles, and his arms go limp at his sides. A single tear streaks from the corner of his eye. “I shot the sheriff,” he whispers, “but I swear it was in self-defense.” I put my hands on either side of his face and force him to meet my eyes. “Okay now?” He hesitates, as if he is taking a serious inventory. “Yes.” I sit up, inadvertently kneeling in the puddle of pickle juice. Jacob sits up, too, and hugs his knees to his chest. A crowd has gathered around us. In addition to the carrot man, the manager of the store, several shoppers, and twin girls with matching constellations of freckles on their cheeks are all staring down at Jacob with that curious mix of horror and pity that follows us like a dog nipping at our heels. Jacob wouldn’t hurt a fly, literally or figuratively—I’ve seen him cup his hands around a spider during a three-hour car ride so that, at our destination, he could set it free outside. But if you are a stranger and you see a tall, muscular man knocking over displays, you don’t look at him and assume he’s frustrated. You think he’s violent. “He’s autistic,” I snap. “Do you have any questions?” I’ve found that anger works best. It’s the electric shock they need to tear their gaze away from the train wreck. As if nothing’s happened, the shoppers go back to sifting through the navel oranges and bagging their bell peppers. The two little girls dart down the dairy aisle. The carrot man and the manager do not make eye contact, and that suits me just fine. I know how to handle their morbid curiosity; it’s their kindness that might break me. Jacob shuffles along behind me as I push the cart. His hand is still twitching faintly at his side, but he’s holding it together. My biggest hope for Jacob is that moments like this won’t happen. My biggest fear: that they will, and I won’t always be there to keep people from thinking the worst of him.

Editorial Reviews

“It’s hard to exaggerate how well Picoult writes.”

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