Handle with Care Review
by Jodi Picoult
I have read Jodi Picoult’s book, My Sister’s Keeper, which was also adapted into a film and since I enjoyed reading that one so much (even through all the tears), I was interested in another novel to see if it would be just as enjoyable. When I found Handle with Care and read the summary on the back, I knew I was about to dragged through a multitude of emotions (Damnit Jodi!!) as she dives into the life of a woman who has to choose between her best friend and her daughter… even if that means her daughter hears her mother wishes she was never born.
Handle with Care begins with Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe taking their children to Disney World which seems like a typical family vacation until their daughter Willow breaks both her legs. Willow has type III Osteogenesis Imperfecta, aka brittle bone syndrome, which makes all her body extremely fragile and easily shattered through everyday actions such as falling on ice, holding something too heavy, or even twisting too quickly. Charlotte and Sean see a lawyer to file a lawsuit against Disney World due to embarrassment since they accused the parents of parental abuse.
The lawyer instead recommends a wrongful birth lawsuit against her OB/GYN - who is actually her best friend. The wrongful birth lawsuit means if Charlotte had known earlier on in her pregnancy that the fetus had OI, she would have had an abortion. Even though Charlotte is extremely conflicted with following through since she doesn’t want Willow to think she doesn’t love her, the payout from such a lawsuit could help with taking care of Willow for the rest of her life along with the many future injuries and hospital bills to come. At the same time, their elder daughter, Amelia, begins cutting herself and developing bulimia due to the stress at home as well as lack of attention as it is always focused on helping Willow prevent an injury or recover from an injury. As the lawsuit commences, Charlotte becomes estranged from her best friend, Piper, as well as becomes ostracized by her community because they all can’t believe that she would publicly say she would have aborted her daughter if given the choice. Even Charlotte’s own husband doesn’t agree with this decision and it causes a rift in their marriage.
The trial reveals that there was evidence that Willow had OI around 18 weeks and that Piper had neglected to see this during the ultrasound, which causes Charlotte to win $8 million in the lawsuit. It appears that everyone is getting a happily ever after with Willow being enrolled in a camp with other kids with OI, Amelia receiving treatment for her eating disorder and self harm, and Charlotte writing a recipe book due to her previously being a pastry chef. This is until one day Willow decides to go to a frozen pond, where the ice breaks and she drowns.
Final Rating: 9/10
For most people the decision starts off as a no brainer - always choose your child above your best friend. But at what cost? Could you risk losing and ruining your best friend’s career? Could you risk being ostracized by your friends, family, neighbors, and even husband? Could you willingly say that you would have aborted the child you have spent years loving, even if she thinks you wish she were never born? The decision only gets further muddled when these questions are thrown in the mix.
The only thing that I really didn’t like about this book was the ending. I don’t know whether to fault the author with such an unexpected death for Willow or if it is meant to be unexpected since we would have guessed it would have been due to a tragic fall that shatters her bones. I think I was just expecting that even though Charlotte lost her best friend, and was outcasted from society due to her decision to follow through with the lawsuit, that she could at least be able to enjoy life with her daughters using the award paid out in the lawsuit. However, when Willow died instead and then Charlotte buried the check with her, I felt like it almost made the whole lawsuit and book pointless. Why go through all if in the end everyone loses?
When I first was reading this book, I sided with everyone else, how could Charlotte even consider such a lawsuit? However as I read further, I had to understand that from her point of view, it wasn’t about going back in time and choosing not to have Willow. It was about how can she take care of Willow, now and for the rest of her life, when any and everything is dangerous for her. It is so easy to be the one who judges when you are not the one who sees her break her arms, her legs, her hands, her nose, etc. But when you are the mom in and out of the hospital, up to her eyes in hospital bills, constantly accused of abusing her daughter whenever a new bruise, fracture, or break appears, it is not so black and white. From Charlotte’s point of view, she was putting her daughter Willow above all else and imagining a life that could be immensely better than the one now if they had the money to support it. Charlotte always put her entire life on hold to take care of Willow because quite frankly, no one else would. Teachers, friends, and neighbors never wanted Willow around for fear that she break something around them - and that would only be for a short amount of time. Charlotte had to live with that fear 24/7 to the point where she could walk into a room and see 100 ways Willow could get hurt, and yet it was those who weren't walking in her shoes that was so quick to judge her.
I honestly don’t think there was ever a book that had me as conflicted as this one did. I didn’t know who’s side to choose and the more I read the book, the more invested I became in every character. It was to the point that when I was telling my husband about this book, he thought they were real people that I was stressing about. I grew to love Willow as if she was my own little sister and Charlotte’s fierce momma bear mentality became contagious where even I wanted to put Willow above all else. I think the beauty of this novel, and of Jodi Picoult as an author, is that she shows illnesses and decisions such as these are never black and white. They affect real people, real marriages, and real friendships. They can turn your world upside down and blur the line between right and wrong. As much as this novel would break your heart, I would recommend this book for others to read.