Title: Handle With Care
Author: Jodi Picoult
Length: 497 pages
Format: Kindle eBook
I have read quite a few books by Jodi Picoult, and we have kind of a love-hate relationship. I enjoy the court process aspect of her books, and how they are on controversial topics that make you think. However, they have always felt kind of like form novels to me. They all go along the same lines: something happens, some kind of trial is introduced (always on a controversial topic), then we go through the long, drawn out court process from the perspectives of multiple characters, followed by the surprising (or not so surprising) verdict, and lastly… some kind of final, often tragic plot twist. This book was no different, but I still managed to enjoy it, as the topic, characters, and twist were all new.
This story centers around the family of Willow O’Keefe, a young girl who has a disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, or OI. This means her bones are lacking collagen, causing them to be very brittle and break easily, from things as simple as sneezing or rolling over in bed. There are several types of this disease, and Willow has the most severe kind that is not immediately lethal at birth. This plot line was somewhat familiar to me, as I watch Grey’s Anatomy, and two of the main characters there recently lost a baby to the same disease. In that case, they chose to terminate via early induction, but in Handle With Care, Willow’s family chose to continue the pregnancy and at the time of the novel’s start, had been raising her for four years.
The legal part of this novel starts when the family goes to Disneyworld, and Willow suffers a bad break from slipping on a napkin. I’ll try to be as spoiler free as possible, but ultimately the family is accused of child abuse at the hospital, as the repeated breaks in children with OI can look like abuse. Upon returning home, Sean, Willow’s father, wants to sue the hospital for the events that transpired. The lawyer told them they didn’t have a case there, but they could possibly have a case for wrongful birth. This means that they would sue their obstetrician, who happens to be the best friend of Willow’s mother Charlotte, for medical malpractice, saying they might have chosen to terminate the pregnancy if she had diagnosed OI based on an earlier ultrasound that included some markers for the disease. In Charlotte’s mind, she loves her child and could never imagine life without her, but believes that she loves her child enough to essentially lie and say she would’ve terminated, because the money resulting from a win would absolutely change Willow’s life.
The rest of the book basically follows the trial, with flashbacks to earlier times in the family’s life giving more details. It depicts the effects of the trial on the family, Sean and Charlotte’s marriage, the friendship between Charlotte and Piper (the obstetrician), Willow’s older sister Amelia, and even the backstory of their lawyer, Marin. Picoult has great character development, and the struggles of all characters are told in vivid detail. Each chapter has a different narrator, and is told as if they are speaking to Willow, who does not get a chapter of her own until the very end. Throughout the book, meaningful recipes are inserted, as Charlotte was previously a pastry chef before becoming full time caretaker to Willow.
While reading this book, you end up thinking about a range of topics. Abortion, quality of life for those with disabilities, insurance issues, the strain something like this puts on a family, etc. I was never sure whether or not I liked Charlotte, or agreed with what she did. At first I didn’t, because what mother could essentially say she wishes her child hadn’t been born, even if it was a lie, knowing that if Willow didn’t understand now, she certainly would when she was old enough to read old news articles. But then I thought, I’ve never been in that position, and how could I possibly know how far I’d go when I believed in my heart that it would benefit my child?
Ultimately, I would recommend this book. Especially if you enjoy Picoult’s other work, this will not disappoint.