House Rules (novel)

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House Rules
First edition
Author Jodi Picoult
Country  USA
Language English
Publisher Atria
Publication date
March 2, 2010
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 532 pp
ISBN 978-0-7432-9643-4

House Rules is a novel by Jodi Picoult about a boy with Asperger's syndrome living in Townsend, Vermont[1] who is accused of murder. The novel shows the struggle between the boy and his family, the law, and his disability.[2]


The plot is conveyed from the points of view of the main characters in the novel.

Jacob Hunt is eighteen years old and has Asperger's syndrome, which is a form of high-functioning autism. (After this book was published, the diagnosis of Asperger's was eliminated in the 2013 fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and replaced by a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder on a severity scale.) Jacob lives with his mother and brother, Emma and Theo Hunt, and lives by a structured schedule, feeling comfortable only when all of his daily activities are planned. Any lack of structure or unexpected events cause him to feel anxious. Emma creates "House Rules" for him which stipulate the following: Clean up your messes, tell the truth, brush your teeth twice a day, don't be late for school, and take care of your brother; he's the only one you've got. Jacob is obsessed with forensic analysis; the hobby consumes his life.[2] The novel opens with Jacob setting up a crime scene (in which he is the victim) for his mother to solve. Jacob's need to engage in such activities, as well as his obsession with detail, often frustrates his mother and infuriates his brother Theo. Jacob is later accused of murdering his tutor Jess Ogilvy. Eventually it is revealed that Theo was sneaking into houses, and he snuck into a house Jess was housesitting at and startled her, causing her to accidentally hit her head on the sink and die. When Jacob showed up for his tutoring, he staged a crime scene using his forensic knowledge so that it would look like Jess's boyfriend Mark Maguire had committed the murder and then Mark had tried to make it look like a kidnapping. Jacob states that he did this in accordance with the house rule to take care of his brother, and that he would do it again.


  • Jacob Hunt - Eldest son of Emma and Theo's brother. He has Asperger's syndrome and he is accused of murdering Jess Ogilvy, his social skills teacher.
  • Emma Hunt - Single mother of Jacob and Theo Hunt. She works as a columnist for their town's local newspaper. She has devoted herself to her eldest son, Jacob, as a consequence of his disability. She creates "House Rules" which stipulate the following: Clean up your messes, tell the truth, brush your teeth twice a day, don't be late for school, and take care of your brother; he's the only one you've got.[2]
  • Theo Hunt - 15 year old brother of Jacob, claims himself to be independent and rebellious. [2]
  • Rich Matson - The lead detective on Jess's case.[2]
  • Oliver Bond - Jacob Hunt's attorney.
  • Jess Ogilvy - Jacob's social skills tutor and the murder victim.
  • Mark Maguire - Jess's boyfriend and first suspect in her murder
  • Judge Cuttings - Judge presiding over the murder case of Jess Ogilvy
  • Helen Sharp - Prosecutor prosecuting Jacob Hunt for murder.

Murders discussed[edit]

The novel contains short discussions of murder(s) committed by Ted Bundy, Richard Crafts, Christopher Hightower, Darryl Littlejohn, Jeffrey MacDonald. Stella Nickell, Dorothea Puente, Dennis Rader, Gary Ridgway, and Bill Sybers.