Handle with Care
By Jodi Picoult
Published by Washington Square Press in 2009
Genre: Legal drama, adult fiction, contemporary fiction
2.5 chickadees singing. Handle With Care is a typical Jodi Picoult book, although it’s my least favorite of hers so far. This book has multiple first person narrators. It centers around the O’Keefe family. The youngest daughter, Willow, has a disorder that causes her bones to be fragile and break often and easily. Willow’s mother is Charlotte, a former pastry chef, who had older daughter, Amelia, before marrying husband Sean, Willow’s father. Each of these characters is also a narrator in the story (besides Willow). Willow’s disability was diagnosed in utero by Charlotte’s best friend and gynecologist, Piper, who is another narrator.
The O’Keefe family goes on a trip to Walt Disney World when Willow has a fall. The Florida doctors notice how many breaks she has had and take Willow and Amelia away from
their parents until they get a hold of Willow’s regular doctor, who explains her condition. Charlotte and Sean go to a lawyer to sue about that situation and are told they have no grounds for a case, but that they may have a wrongful birth suit. Sean is disgusted by the idea of telling a jury that if Willow had been diagnosed earlier, they would have aborted her. In a wrongful birth suit, the claim is that doctors failed to notice the problem as early as they could have, and given the parents the option to abort. The underlying tone is that the child shouldn’t have been born.
Charlotte, however, can’t stop thinking how the money from the lawsuit could greatly improve Willow’s life. Hospital and equipment costs have added up over the years. Charlotte ends up deciding to pursue the wrongful birth suit against her best friend and OB-GYN, Piper. The last narrator is Charlotte’s lawyer, who is searching for her birth mother.
Even though this was my least favorite of Picoult’s books, I’m giving it some stars because it was an interesting premise and the story did suck me in. I loved the multiple viewpoints and I wanted to find out what happened. I also really liked the story of Marin (the lawyer) searching for her birth mother and coming to terms with her adoption.
However, most of this book was tough to like, mostly because I hated the main character, Charlotte. She tried to justify her actions by saying she was doing everything possible for help her daughter, even if it meant lying about wanting her born. What she never seemed to understand was that the price of a better life for Willow had to be paid by someone and that someone was her best friend. She ruined Piper’s life and lost her best (and only, it seemed) friend over this. I felt that Piper’s oversight was minimal at worst. I don’t like the idea of a wrongful birth suit anyway, as one who works with kids with disabilities, because it’s saying their life is less valuable than others’ lives. But the fact that Charlotte was suing not a near stranger, but her best friend, made it even worse. Charlotte also nearly ruined her own family with the suit, going against her husband’s wishes in filing the suit, completely neglecting her children, and making Willow feel like she wasn’t wanted and shouldn’t have been born. I really couldn’t see any justification for her actions and didn’t feel like she had changed at all by the end of the book. This was very disappointing to me.
Usually Jodi’s characters blur the lines between right and wrong, but Charlotte seemed all wrong to me.
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