What I learned: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

This book introduced me to multiple first person narrators. It also reminded me of how much value of good research is to a novel. Two particular concepts, Asperger’s Syndrome and Forensic Science, were featured in this story, and something tells me Jodi Picoult did a little reading to prepare. The details add such a richness to the story.

I thought she did a fantastic job getting into the mind of the family affected by Asperger’s. I found myself relating with the mom, sympathizing with the brother, and intrigued by the main character, Jacob. Stephen King said,

book buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first facinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages. This happens, I think, when readers recognize the people in a book, their behaviors, their surroundings, and their talk. (On Writing p. 160)

This book did that for me. Her story is a great example of the opportunity writers have to introduce their readers to ideas and issues that are important. It’s also an example of the persuasive capacity inherent in a work of fiction.

Even though I understood the characters, and would totally expect it to come from them, I still struggle with the existence of crass language in books. If I were living the story, and one of the characters spoke the words around me, I wouldn’t be phased. There’s just something about reading them that makes me squirm.


  1. I haven’t read this one, but I’ve like the other books I’ve read of hers, especially Handle with Care. I agree with you on language though. I hate it in books…and in the real world. I hear people say on Tv and other places that that’s how people really talk. But I disagree. To me it is a sign of disrespect and lazy intellect to use vulgar language.

    1. What’s difficult is how words morph over time. A word might carry a negative connotation in one generation, yet be considered neutral in the next, “pissed,” for example. It’s not a word I use and I think it’s crass, but many equate it with water or rib cage. The reverse happens too, “bitch” as a perfect example. The first time I read that word in the proper context I was shocked. Most people agree on the obvious crass words, but I’ve even had very conservative friends consider them necessary adjectives at times. It’s not for me for a couple reasons: 1) I don’t want my message missed or tossed out due to questionable language. 2) I want God to smile on my writing, so I’ll strain to keep the language wholesome (Eph. 5:29)

      One interesting exception. I’ve enjoyed a couple stories recently (The Help, by Kathryn Stockett and Dominion, by Randy Alcorn) and the word “nigger” was included in both. I felt it appropriate in those stories because it would have been disingenuous to excluded it, almost insulting. That word, especially in that context, is worse than any of the trash talk thrown around casually today.

      It’s a judgement call I guess. I just wish more authors would use better judgement 😉

      1. Agreed! The Help was amazing (and I feel when the N word is used in the South in that context, it’s different. I grew up around blacks and they used that word to greet each other all the time–so one person using it–say, me a white girl–would come off as insulting, but when they use it with each other, it’s friendly. Weird!)

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