Have you ever read a book by Jodi Picoult that doesn’t bring tears to your eyes? What about Nineteen Minutes, the story about a school shooting? Or My Sister’s Keeper, the story about a girl being forced to donate a kidney to her dying sister?
Handle with Care is no exception. The story follows five-year-old Willow who is a sweet, trivia-loving brainiac suffering from Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), otherwise known as brittle bone disease. Named for a tree that bends but doesn’t break, Willow is bound to break literally hundreds of bones in her lifetime. Some of these breaks are minor, like fractures from sneezing or rolling over in her sleep; and some of them are major, like when she slips or falls, breaking some of the hardest bones to break in your body at 90 degrees, piercing through the skin.
The story is told from multiple characters’ perspectives – her parents, sister, mom’s best friend and Ob/Gyn, and her mother’s lawyer – as if they’re talking to Willow. Marin Gates, the lawyer, comes into play when Willow’s mother, Charlotte, files suit for the wrongful birth of her sweet, disabled daughter.
Should Charlotte’s Ob/Gyn (and best friend) have detected Willow’s broken bones in utero sooner so that she and her husband had the option to end Willow’s life and avoid all of the suffering (physically, emotionally, and financially?) Full body casts, metal rodding surgeries, physical therapy, feelings of inadequacy and endless medical bills… Would Willow have been better off never to have been born? Is this how her mother truly feels and thinks?
Charlotte’s husband doesn’t understand, and as the lawsuit unfolds, family and friendships twist and break just like Willow’s fragile bones. The smart little girl isn’t oblivious to the world around her as her mother had hoped she would be. And as her protective older sister finds her own set of troubling issues, going unnoticed by their parents, the girls no longer believe the “I love yous” and instead, wonder why they’re part of this family.
Reading about the lawsuit itself is like a bad car accident – you don’t want to look, but can’t keep your eyes away. I wasn’t sure who to root for; in fact, I found myself switching sides the entire time. Would the monetary payouts ensure a lifetime of care for Willow? Or is her mother just plain crazy? Charlotte’s motives are something you’ll have to read about for yourself.
It’s no surprise Picoult raises controversial, ethical issues like she has in so many of her other novels. Like always, she says she knew the ending of this story before beginning to write the first page. Forget the warm and fuzzies — but if you’re a fan of Picoult’s heart-wrenching stories — I’d recommend reading Handle with Care.