Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Breaking Unwritten Rules

I don't tend to read books that are popular. In fact, when a book becomes a sensation or hits a best-seller list, I am less likely to read it. It took me several years before I agreed to read Harry Potter because I knew how popular it had become. Once I read it, I was hooked and ended up reading all seven books in the series. I prefer classics most of the time - books that were considered sensational decades ago - or a book that someone I know is reading. For this reason, I was hesitant to pick up anything written by Jodi Picoult. I had heard too many good things about her work, read too many rave reviews about her intriguing style, heard too many people say they wait on tenterhoods for Picoult's newest book to come out. I did not want to read her work because I was certain that the high expectations I would have could not be met.

A week ago I walked into my public library and asked for a recommendation. I am waiting for the third book in The Hunger Games series and wanted something to pass the time. She asked me what kind of books I enjoy.

"Anything," I replied.

"Read this for me," she said slowly, "because I have a child with Asperger's and I am interested in this book, but it is long and I don't want to read it if it isn't as good as people tell me it is."

She handed me a copy of House Rules by Jodi Picoult. I grimaced and then agreed to read it.

The book began slowly, and I was sure I wouldn't enjoy it. Each section is written from a different character's perspective, and I found it a tad confusing at the beginning. By the end, however, I was sold. This novel is really good. It is over 530 pages, but I was not certain until 5 pages from the end how the mystery would turn out. To me, that is good writing, good plotting, and great suspense. The subject matter - an eighteen year old male with Asperger's and the way his "quirkiness" keeps him from feeling empathy, and reacting "normally" in given situations - is timely and a subject about which many people should take the time to learn. I recommend this book, but will give the disclaimer that it begins slowly. Plod on, and you will be glad you did.

*Writing tip: Don't be afraid to tackle tough subject matter, but if you do, do your homework. Picoult took the time to get to know young adults with Asperger's, and she spent time learning about crime scene investigation. Her material is accurate, and you can tell she knows it well. When you have a character with something like autism, you will have readers who know whether you have done your research or not. In fact, there may be people who pick up your book because they want someone who can identify with their own life stories. People will pick up House Rules because they have a child with autism or know someone who does, and they want to find comfort in a character who resembles them in some way. I applaud Picoult's willingness to broach a subject that is uncomfortable for many people, and I agree with what many say about her writing in this book. The suspensful story she weaves is masterful.

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