In Jodi Picoult’s novel, Handle With Care, Sean and Charlotte O’Keefe are fighting for a happy and healthy life for their children. They’re youngest daughter, Willow, has been born with a disease called osteogenesis imperfecta. When Willow is born, she already has seven broken bones. Within hours of her birth, she has to be resuscitated and suffers even more. Osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease is a defect in the collagen in the person who has it and causes the bones to break from the slightest pressure. The O’Keefe’s lives are overcome with sleepless nights, physical therapy, hospitalizations, insurance problems and the financial burden that promises to undo them completely.
Handle with Care asks the big questions. The “What If” question. The “What would you do for your child” question. What do we do for security, not necessarily justice but security? Told through the voices of Willow’s parents, her doctor, her sister and her mother’s attorney, the novel tells the story of how one person’s actions and decisions have consequences far beyond what they imagined.
The storyline follows the decision of Charlotte to file suit against her doctor for “wrongful birth”. Never mind that Charlotte loves Willow and the doctor is her best friend. She decides that it will be worth anything she has to do to secure a financially safe future for her daughter. Conflict arises when Sean vehemently disagrees with Charlotte. Another subplot revolves around the older daughter, Amelia and her problems. We also follow Charlotte’s attorney in her quest to find her birth mother.
This is a stunning book. The ability to see all the points of view give the reader a whole different insight into this complex issue. Not only did the book send me off to the Internet to read about this disease, but I also thought about this book for a long time after finishing it. Handle with Care is one of those books that puts you inside the characters, makes you live their lives with them. It shows there are no easy answers to the huge issues we sometimes face.
The following quote sort of illustrates the general feel of the novel for me: Charlotte and her attorney, Marin are speaking.
“My mother’s in a nursing home now”: Charlotte said. “She can’t remember who I am, so I’ve become the keeper of the memories. I’m the one who tells her about the time she baked brownies for the entire senior class when I ran for student council, and how I won by a landslide. Or how she used to collect sea glass with me during the summer and put it in a jar next to my bed. I wonder what memories Willow will have to tell me, if it comes to that. I wonder if there’s a difference between being a dutiful mother and being a good mother.”
“There is,” I said, and Charlotte looked up at me, expectant.
Even if I couldn’t articulate the difference as an adult, as a child, I had felt it. I thought for a moment. “A dutiful mother is someone who follows every step her child makes,” I said.
“And a good mother?”
I lifted my gaze to Charlotte’s. “Is someone whose child wants to follow her.”
Handle With Care hits the bookstores tomorrow, March 3. Get yourself to the bookstore and buy this book!!