I had this nagging sense of deja vu reading this book and couldn’t quite figure out why. I assumed it was that Jodi Picoult has a fairly consistent style, and frankly all of her books kind of remind me of a TV movie version of whatever subject she writes on, but that was only part of it. (So many of her books have a single woman who is romanced by a male character who is clearly just in the book to be her love interest and look past her being too *insert obstacle here that makes her not realize she’s beautiful* to date.) I like Picoult well enough, but there’s just something off about her books that I have trouble putting my finger on, but this one in particular rubbed me the wrong way for clear reasons.
House Rules centers on Jacob Hunt, a teenager with high functioning autism (I had to keep reminding myself that this book was written in 2010, as they refer to it as Asperger’s, and somewhat more infuriatingly, take an ambiguous stance on the role of vaccinations in autism. In fairness to Picoult, she doesn’t go full antivaxxer, but she puts the position “vaccines are the greater good, but maybe some kids are just more susceptible to getting autism when exposed to them” in her self-insert character, which is infuriating and irresponsible from the vantage of ten years later). Jacob is obsessed with crime scenes and forensics, to the frustration of his exhausted mother and put-upon younger brother. When Jacob’s beloved social skills tutor is found dead housesitting after an argument with Jacob and her boyfriend, Jacob’s involvement in the crime is questioned, and his family and attorney have to grapple with his autism in defending him, and with the knowledge that it may have played a role in the crime.
There’s a lot interesting here, like how defending an autistic person must be stressful given the difficulty with demonstrating emotion during a jury trial, but the nagging sense that this reminded me of something was resolved by my Marie Kondo-ing my library. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime was on my re-read list to see if it was destined for the resale pile as I had forgotten much of it. It’s suspiciously similar and MUCH better. For one thing, Haddon writes from the point of view of an autistic person much more believably (Picoult takes pains to describe how Jacob doesn’t understand metaphor, then has him use metaphor immediately after – which is something that comes up in Curious Incident as well), and both books feature protagonists obsessed with detective work. I also IMMEDIATELY figured out what happened to cause the tutor’s death, so you don’t have to have an obsession with detective work to put two and two together. It’s like Picoult read Haddon’s book and thought “what if there was an actual crime involved instead of the killing of a dog? What would that book be like?”
This doesn’t rise to plagiarism, but it also doesn’t rise to its presumable inspiration.