Title: Handle With Care
Author: Jodi Picoult
Warning: Spoilers (and I spill the ending).
This week I’m reviewing Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult. If you read my Top Ten: Books/Series post, I listed this book as number ten because I wasn’t happy with a main character and because of the ending. Because I had mixed feelings about this book, I decided to review it.
Handle With Care is about a family of four with a disabled child. Five-year-old Willow O’Keefe has osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease where your bones break easily and frequently. Even something like sneezing can cause a break. Willow’s family includes her mother Charlotte, a former pastry chef who’s been a stay-at-home mom since Willow’s birth; her father Sean, a cop in fictional small-town Bankton, New Hampshire; and her twelve-year-old half-sister Amelia, who feels ignored due to Willow’s condition.
The family decides to go on vacation to Disney World. It’s never specifically said, but it’s implied that the Make-A-Wish foundation (a charity that grants wishes to kids with serious illnesses) put this trip together for them. When the family gets to the park, Willow says she’s hungry so she and Sean get in line at an ice-cream parlor, Amelia finds a table, and Charlotte grabs some napkins. Amelia sees Goofy and calls Willow over to see him. Sean lets go of Willow’s hand to grab his wallet and a napkin slips from Charlotte’s hand. Willow runs over to Amelia, but she slips on the napkin and she breaks her leg.
At the hospital, doctors discover that the broken leg isn’t Willow’s first break. Charlotte tells the doctor that Willow has OI, but they don’t believe her. Charlotte discovers they forgot the note—a letter from Willow’s doctor in New Hampshire, saying she has OI. A nurse named Donna Roman talks to Amelia about Willow’s break.
Amelia tells her the truth, but without the note, the hospital is suspicious of the story. Since they think Willow’s been abused, they put Amelia in custody, and they take Charlotte and Sean to the police station for further questioning, which means Willow is spending the night at the hospital alone. Eventually the hospital reaches Willow’s hometown doctor, who confirms Willow’s disease. The next morning the family is reunited, and Sean says someone is going to pay.
In New Hampshire, Sean calls a lawyer named Robert Ramirez, and the family goes in for a meeting with him and his associate Marin Gates. Sean wants to sue Disney World, the hospital, and DCF. However, the lawyer quickly tells him that based on what Sean’s told him, everyone was just doing their jobs. He says doctors have a legal obligation to report suspicions of child abuse and that without the note from Willow’s doctor; the police had probable cause to arrest Sean and Charlotte.
The lawyers ask questions about how Willow was conceived, and about the ultrasounds. Ramirez brings up another kind of case: Wrongful birth. A wrongful birth lawsuit lets parents sue for damages for the birth and care of a disabled child. The implication is that if Charlotte’s ob/gyn had told her that Willow would be born disabled, she would’ve aborted her. Sean walks away, furious, but Charlotte’s considering it. The only problem is that Charlotte’s ob/gyn is her best friend Piper Reece.
Nevertheless, she sues Piper and Marin becomes her lawyer. When Piper gets served, she’s baffled. She has no idea where this has come from, and she hires a lawyer named Guy Booker. Sean, who is also baffled about the lawsuit, tries to set aside his feelings in order to support Charlotte but he finds that he can’t do that, and he begins to support Piper.
Emma learns what Charlotte did and she breaks her friendship with Amelia. After a terrible day at school Amelia leaves early, goes to the drugstore, steals blue hair dye, and dyes her hair—without her parents’ knowledge or permission. Amelia has self-damaging habits. She suffers from bulimia and self-mutilation. Her parents don’t notice her suffering because they’re so busy taking care of Willow and Amelia doesn’t know how to ask for help.
The trial begins and there’s a lot of talk about what Willow’s future will be like. Basically, if she survives into adulthood, her future will be very expensive. If she drives a car, for instance, she’ll need a special car with pedals that are easier to press down on. She’ll need a house with wheelchair access, and the counters can’t be too high, because people will OI are generally three feet tall.
Charlotte wins the lawsuit and she gets a check of eight million dollars for Willow’s future medical expenses. Piper says maybe she made a mistake becoming Charlotte’s doctor, and she says she’s sorry Charlotte didn’t get the healthy baby she wanted.
I liked this book, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. There are two reasons why I don’t know if I’d recommend the book. One of them is Charlotte O’Keefe. One of them is the ending.
Quite frankly, Charlotte is a bitch. She alienates herself from the rest of her family during the lawsuit, and her only focus is the money. She ruined her best friend’s job, and she totally ignored her first-born daughter throughout the whole book. Since Charlotte has to get up in court and say that she would’ve aborted Willow if given the option, this goes against her religion, because Charlotte is a Catholic.
The ending was totally unexpected. Since Charlotte wins the lawsuit, I’m not sure what I expected of the ending—something cheerful for sure— but the ending was upsetting. Willow goes outside to get Amelia so they can go to a movie, and she goes on the ice. Unfortunately, the ice breaks and Willow drowns. She tries calling for help, but there is no one around to hear her.
I would’ve liked the ending to be expanded a little, or for there to have been an epilogue. The epilogue could’ve been something as simple as how the family found out about Willow’s death, and put together a funeral for her.
Would I recommend this book? I’ve thought about that for a long time, and I’m not sure my answer makes sense. I do and I don’t recommend it. I’m aware that this is annoying to some people, but since I had mixed feelings about this book that seemed like the best answer. I’d recommend reading it if you need something to read. I don’t recommend this book because it felt like a step down from Picoult’s usual work. It felt like a filler until the next book.
I hope you enjoyed my review, and I’ll update again next week!