Book Review: Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult


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I just finished rereading a novel by Jodi Picoult who is an amazing author on books dealing with tough themes around race, disability, religion ETC. Her books usually have a court/ trial in them, and always leave the reader with much to consider.

Willow O’Keefe is a bright energetic and loving six year old girl. She’s talkative, loves collecting random facts and longs to be able to ice skate. This if forbiden as she actually broke her arm pretending to skate on the kitchen floor. That might sound strange but not for Willow. She was born with many broken bones, and will over her life sustain hundreds. She has osteogenesis imperfecta, or Brittle bone disease. The collagin in her bones isn’t developed correctly and so her bones break at something as small as a sneeze, tripping on something, jumping off the couch.
OI means a life of physical and emotional pain for Willow. Constant medical procedures, physical therapy, and limitations around how she aproaches the most simple everyday challenges. It also means huge financial costs, as well as the emotional highs and lows of being a special needs child and how that affects everyone in the family.
The story unfolds as the family finally decided to take a vacation to Disneyworld. They had everything prepared all emergency suplies, numbers for hospitals and very importantly a letter from Willow’s doctor explaining about OI.
In the excitement of leaving Willow’s fourteen year old sister Amelia forgets to put the letter in the car something that haunts her throughout the book.
On their first day they stop off at a restaurant. Willow trips on a napkin on the floor and breaks both legs. The parents rush to explain to the doctors about OI but without the letter they have to call social services after examining Willow. Both parents are arrested and Amelia is in a foster home for the night.
At the foster home Amelia has a breakdown of sorts, she figures out that by eating a ton of food it fills the emotional emptiness within her and quiets the huge tangle of feelings inside. By throwing up after she releases it and also has a physical reason for feeling weak, shaken and so disconnected from herself. This starts her on a progressive slide into pretty vicious bulimia.
The doctor is contacted and the parents are released. After a really uncomfortable ride home (Willow can’t fly as injured as she is) Sean a polece officer, is faced with good natured harassment at work.This gets on his last nerve and he feels propelled with anger to do something about what a happened. He calls a pricy law firm and is told that actually the people who he wants to sue, the hospital social services ETC were actually doing their job.
When he and Charlotte are questioned about her pregnancy with Willow the head lawyer tells them that they should have been notified at the first ultrasound of the possibility of Willow’s disability. They are told that they could start a wrongful birth lawsuit. Meaning that they would sue Charlotte’s ob/gyn Piper (who is also her best friend,) on the grounds that had she known about the OI she would have gotten an abortion. And the purpose of sueing would be to get compensation for having a disabled child.
This sounds as horible to them as it does to the reader at first. And they run out of there very fast. But after thinking about it, Charlotte starts to consider things from another angle. The truth is Willow will need a huge amount of care in her life and they don’t have the money for a quarter of it. They’re barely geting by as it is. This lawsuit is just a means to an end. It will get the money that they need to support Willow. And anyone who knows her knows that absolutely Charlotte would never have terminated the pregnancy, this is all in theory.
Sean objects very strongly. Arguing that first of all it’s a hell of a thing to do to your best friend. Most importantly a hell of a thing to do to her own family especially her daughter. Who is quite intelligent and will sooner rather than later hear and understand all of this.
In spite of this Charlotte pushes on. Her lawyer is Marin Gates, who is adopted and searching for her own birth mother. Which brings this case extra close to home for her and often she faces great obstacles in being able to fight Charlotte’s corner.
The fallout is probably more shocking and emotional than anyone could guess. All the arguments against the lawsuet start to come into facts. Willow does hear and understand exactly what’s going on in spite of Charlotte trying to cushion the blow and convince her otherwise. It nearly destroys their marriage and leads Sean to testify against his wife. Amelia gets more and more consumed by her eating disorder, self-injury, depression and self-hate. She’s battling not only her emotions about this lawsuit and her family falling apart,, but her own inner demons. Things that started well before this happened, her secret wishes that she wasn’t the sister of a disabled child, her self-hatred for wishing these things, her total disgust with herself on a physical, social, and emotional level. She is truly emotionally falling apart and broken. And no one sees it until things reach a real crisis for her.
Charlotte in spite of everything that one would think would force her to stop this monster of a lawsuit, continues to press on. She uses baking as an outlet, she was an amazing baker before having Willow and uses it now as a safe place for her to feel compitent and release all her conflicting emotions. Throughout the book she defines words that fit the subject like weeping, tempering, buckle, hardball which are also terms in baking. These come with recepies to ilustrate the word. They sound too fancy for me LOL just give me a regular chocolate chip cookie or brownie
The ending is totally unexpected and harsh in many ways. In others huge pieces are left unresolved or too neatly so. I do recommend this book. Though the content could be very triggering on a lot of levels. There are grapic descriptions of eating disorder behavior and self-harm. The content and discussion of the wrongful birth aspect and Amelia’s conflicted feelings on having a disabled sister could be very hard to read for anyone in any position living through something similar. I hope this didn’t actuallty ever happen or does happen. I really think if you sit for five or ten minutes and think about ways to raise money for a disability it might not be six million dollars or whatever but it won’t envolve a courtroom battle, tearing your family apart and everything. It’s hard for me to empathize with Charlotte. And the one I felt most connected to was Amelia. So much of her illness was explored but not the treatment. And after the ending, well I don’t know how she or any of them recovered but particularly her.
Would love thoughts on the book.

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