Emma Hunt is a middle-aged single mother struggling to raise her two sons: teenager Theo and 19 year-old Jacob, who has fairly severe Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism). Jacob is highly intelligent and fascinated by science, especially forensic science, but any change to his routine and his reaction can be extremely volatile. Serve yellow food on blue food day, for example, or make him miss his favorite TV show, a true crime forensics program called Crime Busters, and he may suddenly become violently aggressive or, worse, completely withdraw for days, practically comatose.
Once Jacob begins working with a young woman named Jess, a teacher helping him learn better social skills, he improves dramatically. But when Jess goes missing and is later found dead — wrapped in Jacob’s old quilt, no less — the police latch onto Jacob as their chief suspect. Thinking he’s helping solve the case, Jacob immediately confesses to having tinkered with the crime scene in Jess’s house, without explaining WHY. The police, not understanding the way Jacob’s brain works, assume he’s confessing to killing her, and an hour later, Emma learns her emotionally-challenged son has been locked in jail, pending trial for murder.
This novel is incredibly gripping and fast-paced (I devoured it in two days while on vacation). Though I had the whodunnit figured out pretty early on, it was still entertaining to see how and when — and IF — the truth would come out. The book also provides a lot of insight into what it’s like to parent a child with Asperger’s (hint: damn hard), and since it was recommended to me by a friend with a son with Asperger’s, I assume it’s fairly accurate in that regard.
Picoult is an author who is usually pretty hit-or-miss for me; this is about the third or fourth novel of hers I’ve read and I never find them as well-written as I want them to be (the stories are good, but the writing itself is fairly lack-luster). This one is definitely the best of the bunch I’ve read, though, and I really enjoyed it a lot. Recommended!