Follow TV Tropes


Literature / House Rules

Go To

House Rules is a 2010 novel by Jodi Picoult. Like every other book she writes it takes place in New England, there is an Ill Girl (er... boy in this case), a martyrous mother who looks after her (er... him), a Unfavorite sibling, a catastrophe leading to a court case and a twist ending.

Tropes found in this book include:

  • Abusive Parents: Emma has neglected Theo in favor of being The Caretaker for Jacob and performing this duty to the point where Jacob is, for all purposes, codependent on her. She's even trying to groom Theo to take care of his older brother when she is no longer there to do so.
  • Accidental Murder: Theo thinks this is what he has done to Jess, but it turns out that it was really just an accident.
  • All Take and No Give: The second variant, with Emma as the Giver and Jacob as the Taker. Emma is, by default the caretaker for Jacob because he is autistic, and goes way out of her way to attempt to do this duty to the best of her ability. Unfortunately, she has kept Jacob from developing any coping skills or gaining any other practical skills that would make him able to live on his own, such as driving, which you can't say he will definitely never be able to do because he's never even been given the chance to get his permit and try. Plus, Emma is more obviously abusive to Jacob later and then justifies her behavior in the narration to readers.
  • Advertisement:
  • Ambiguous Disorder: We're told that Jacob has Asperger's Syndrome but everything that we're shown about him points more toward full-blown autism. Possibly justified by being traumatized and psychologically wrecked by constant horrible parenting, exacerbating to a great extent what could have been a mild condition? Or, on the other hand, maybe just Critical Research Failure ...
  • Because You Can Cope: Emma's reason for neglecting younger son, Theo.
  • Big Brother Instinct: One of Emma's noted rules of the household is "Take care of your brother; he's the only one you've got." This is why Jacob kept Theo's involvement in Jess's death a secret.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Theo. A prime example of this is when his mother promises him that they'll go to the cinema, a rare treat for Theo, who's constantly passed over in favor of keeping Jacob's "meltdowns" to a minimum. He's excited when the day of the trip arrives...only for Jacob to find out that he's out of books, and is threatening to throw a fit if he doesn't get new ones. They end up at the library instead of the cinema. On realizing that his mother hasn't even noticed how badly she's disappointed her younger son (again), the usually well-behaved Theo decides to throw a tantrum in the middle of the library. Then his mother starts screaming and crying herself, an event that shocks Theo and leaves him feeling guilty years later.
  • Advertisement:
  • The Caretaker: Emma, of her autistic son Jacob. Theo is resigned to the fact that after Emma dies, this role will default to him.
  • A Degree in Useless: Oliver graduated with an English degree but was unable to find any related work, which led to him becoming a farrier's apprentice and later going to law school.
  • Disappeared Dad: His stated reason for abandoning his wife and two young children is that he can't handle his elder son's "Asperger's." (see below)
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Emma is the distaff version to Jacob. She considers herself to be a good parent because she is The Caretaker for her autistic son and even indulges his interest in forensic analysis, but she makes sure that eighteen year old Jacob is unable to drive, even though he's been bugging her about it. Presumably he's wanted to acquire some other skills vital to being able to live on one's own, but she's stomped him down on those, too. Theo has gotten a share of this, too, but not nearly to the codependency-inducing level that Jacob has gotten it. Theo was unable to go to the cinema (a rare treat for him) and get his learner's permit because of Jacob's meltdowns.
  • Hot for Teacher: Jacob has feelings for Jess. Unfortunately for him, he attempts to ask her out while eating lunch with her and her boyfriend. It does not end well.
  • Info Dump: Usually in the form of Jacob's mother talking about his condition.
  • Insufferable Genius: Jacob, even if his area of genius is limited. It's a trait of his autism. He openly states that his brother isn't as smart as him, and sees his lack of empathy as "the next step in evolution: I cannot take away your sadness, so why should I acknowledge it?"
    • Interestingly, when they get their grades at school, Jacob's are good but not exceptional, while Theo gets straight 'A's.
      • Plays to his character: Autistics may not perform well at school on the simple grounds that they are unable to acclimate with the group-based one-size-fits-all approach to modern education. Even with some form of assistance (such as, in American terms, an IEP or 504 plan), it's very difficult for autistics to adjust. Thus, they tend to have lower grades despite an above-average intelligence.
    • Jacob is also bullied more openly than Theo is.
    • Helen Sharp, who says "Asperger's is the new selfish" or Rich, who tricks Jacob into an interrogation room by using doublespeak. Also Theo for withholding evidence until the end of the book, Emma, for completely ignoring Theo's needs and telling Jacob that he can't have it both ways (though Jacob points out that neurotypicals do frequently), and Henry, for walking out on his wife and children because he can't deal with Jacob's A.S.
      • So...everyone except Oliver. Wow.
  • Manchild: Jacob. Even though he is eighteen, and one can understand why someone at that age wouldn't move out, especially because he's still in high school, he doesn't have a driver's license and is in absolutely no shape to live on his own. He isn't shown to know how to do basic household chores or financial things.
  • My Beloved Smother: Emma takes on the role of The Caretaker to Jacob Up to Eleven to the point where she becomes this. Emma goes way out of her way to make sure that Jacob's special needs are accommodated for. She makes sure that his routine is always followed and to calm him down when he's having a meltdown. Unfortunately, she does it to the point where Jacob has practically no coping skills whatsoever.
  • No Ending: Partially. Jacob's story gets closure while his emotionally-neglected sibling remains something of an untied plot thread.
  • No Sympathy: Jacob's autism causes him to be viewed as a more obviously un-empathetic character — it's why he's suspected of murder in the first place.
  • Parental Neglect: Theo has it from both of his parents; his mother spends almost all of her attention on Jacob, and his father walked out before he was born.
  • Shown Their Work: Picoult makes a point to tell the reader all about the research that she did for the book.
  • Visit by Divorced Dad: An inversion: Theo goes to visit Henry during Jacob's court case.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Emma to Jacob; she doesn't give the guilt-trip verbally to Jacob, but she justifies herself to the reader in the narrative.

Example of: