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Books 75-76: House Rules and The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Book 75: House Rules
Author: Jodi Picoult, 2010.
Genre: Family Drama. Contemporary. Theme: Asperger’s Syndrome
Other Details: Hardback. 576 pages.

Jacob Hunt is a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome. This causes him to be poor with reading social cues or expressing himself. Like many kids with AS, Jacob has an intense focus on one subject. In his case it is forensic analysis. He is obsessed with a C.S.I.-like TV series and recently has been showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room. When his tutor is found dead, the police come to question him. However, the hallmark behaviours of Asperger’s begins to look a lot like guilt to them. His mother, Emma, also begins to question if her son could be capable of murder.

This follows the usual Picoult formula of multiple first-person narrators and a family dealing with an issue that is causing financial, legal and emotional turmoil. I thought it was fairly restrained for Picoult in terms of tear-jerking drama. Still there were times when I wanted to give a character or two a good shaking. It was a compulsive read and I found I enjoyed it more than the last couple of her books I'd read.

Official web-page with excerpt and other material. Note: book group questions may contain spoilers.

Book 76: The Memory Keeper's Daughter.
Author: Kim Edwards, 2005.
Genre: Family Drama. Period Fiction: 1960s-80s. Theme: Down's Syndrome
Other Details: Paperback. 416 pages.

This novel opens in 1964 as Nora Henry goes into labour. Her husband, Dr. David Henry, has to oversee the delivery as his practice partner is unable to get to the surgery in time due to a severe snow storm. His son is born first and appears healthy. However, when his daughter is born David Henry realises that she has Down's Syndrome. Haunted by the memory of his younger sister, who had died young from a severe heart defeat, he makes a split second decision to have his loyal nurse, Caroline Gill, take the infant to an institution in a nearby city. He then tells his wife that their daughter was still born. Caroline finds when she reaches the institution that the staff is cold and unwelcoming and so she decides to take the baby, Phoebe, with her to another city and raise her as her own.

The balance of the novel follows the lives of these characters over the next 25 years and the repercussions of David's lie. This was a library reading group selection and it really wasn't a book I was particularly attracted to. David Henry proved quite a sympathetic character but I really didn't like his wife. There were also some quite implausible plot points, which we discussed at some length in the group. We did feel that Kim Edwards was quite sensitive in her portrayal of Phoebe as well as how attitudes towards those with Down's Syndrome has shifted over the years.

This was a Richard and Judy Summer Read a few years ago and it certainly was an easy read even though not one that particularly moved me.

Official web-page - contains excerpt.
Tags: autism, drama, richard and judy/channel 4 book club
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