I have a confession: I really, really like Jodi Picoult's books. I wish I didn't. She's a sub-par writer, prone to melodrama and unrealism, but there's just something about her books that really captivate me. I'll give it to her--for all her weaknesses as an author, she knows how to tell a story. Her earlier works (My Sister's Keeper, The Pact, Nineteen Minutes) were all incredibly gripping. While there were still moments of implausibility and emotional manipulation, the suspense of the storylines made them great reads. Picoult has a formula, and, up until now, it's worked.
House Rules has all the elements of her previous novels. A main character that has a big mental/physical issue? Check. A crime/mystery that frames the story? Check. Lots of court scenes? Check. A "twist" ending? Check. But for some reason, they don't come together as well as they have in Picoult's past books.
This book is about Emma, an advice columnist who is struggling to get by while raising her two sons, one of whom (Jacob) has Asperger's Syndrome. It's a testament to how little impact this book had on me that I had to look up the names of the main characters to write this review, even though I only finished it about a week ago. Jacob is fairly high-functioning, although he is extremely focused on routine and must have all of his life scheduled out to the last minute. He is obsessed with forensics/criminal investigation, and spends hours watching a CSI-like show called Crimebusters, setting up crime scenes for his family to discover and solve, and visiting actual crime scenes that he hears about on his police radio. The story centers around the disappearance of his tutor, Jess, and the subsequent investigation of Jacob and his family.In typical Picoult fashion, the story is told from the perspective of multiple characters, each with their own alternating "chapters." While some of these are logical (Emma, Jacob, the younger brother, and the lawyer) but she also includes the voice of the investigating police officer, which is just distracting and ultimately pointless because his storyline goes nowhere.
And that's about it, honestly. This was one of her worst books, in my opinion (the distinction of worst is reserve for the truly terrible Handle With Care). It was incredibly predictable, and the twist at the end was incredibly lame and anti-climactic. Picoult is publishing about a book a year, and it shows. Her formula has gotten tired and she doesn't seem to be putting any effort into her writing any more. I used to be able to get past her terrible dialogue and laughably bad metaphors because of the plot, but I can't anymore. Her characters are all recycled from other books and are, at this point, stereotypes--she literally always includes a conflicted-yet-strong mother and an unconventional-yet-brilliant lawyer, and they have completely lost any appeal they might have once had. Also, for some reason, her books are apparently no longer edited. There were some seriously mind-boggling typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors throughout, and they really took me out of the story.
Overall, I wouldn't recommend it. If you're looking for some mindless fluff, any of Picoult's older books would be a much better choice.