November 22, 2015

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

Title:  Handle With Care
Author:  Jodi Picoult
Pages:  477
Genre:  Fiction
Publisher:  Atria Books, 2009

Synopsis:  When Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe's daughter, Willow, is born with severe osteogenesis imperfecta, they are devastated -- she will suffer hundreds of broken bones as she grows, a lifetime of pain. As the family struggles to make ends meet to cover Willow's medical expenses, Charlotte thinks she has found an answer. If she files a wrongful birth lawsuit against her ob/gyn for not telling her in advance that her child would be born severely disabled, the monetary payouts might ensure a lifetime of care for Willow. But it means that Charlotte has to get up in a court of law and say in public that she would have terminated the pregnancy if she'd known about the disability in advance -- words that her husband can't abide, that Willow will hear, and that Charlotte cannot reconcile. And the ob/gyn she's suing isn't just her physician - it's her best friend.

Handle With Care explores the knotty tangle of medical ethics and personal morality. When faced with the reality of a fetus who will be disabled, at which point should an OB counsel termination? Should a parent have the right to make that choice? How disabled is TOO disabled? And as a parent, how far would you go to take care of someone you love? Would you alienate the rest of your family? Would you be willing to lie to your friends, to your spouse, to a court? And perhaps most difficult of all -- would you admit to yourself that you might not actually be lying?

Review:  Well, I love this author but this is not one of her better stories.  There weren't really any characters I liked except Willow.

The family was so dysfunctional it's amazing they are still a family.  The mother, Charlotte, is not very likable.  She comes across as one of those controlling mothers, with a martyr complex to boot.  The father, Sean, is only slightly better and is actually in a few scenes worse.  The elder daughter Amelia is your average teen, self-centered and difficult.  The fact that she suffered from bulimia and liked to cut herself didn't really make me feel all that sorry for her.  It just made me angrier at her parents for rarely noticing she exists.

As to the rest of the cast, there really aren't any winners.  The best friend and obstetrician, Piper, who Charlotte winds up suing, comes across as weak and ineffectual.  Charlotte's lawyer, Marin, spends far too much of the story whining to herself about the birth mother she's never met -- and then winds up regretting ever meeting her.  Most of the the secondary characters, from teachers, to lawyers, to doctors seem inconsiderate and lacking in compassion.

Willow, though.  She was impossibly brave and smart and funny and beautiful.  But even that ended up badly.  Because she hadn't been through enough in the first 475 pages, the author found it necessary to kill her off at the very end.  I don't understand why.  It did nothing to help the story or the characters.  Well, it did allow Charlotte to finally do something with the money she won in the lawsuit; she buried the check with Willow.  What a complete waste.  I'd have been quite a bit happier with a happy ending, or as happy of an ending as there could have been.

This was a quick read, as all Ms. Picoult's books are, but it wasn't a very enjoyable read.  It felt like I was being beaten up and broken just reading it.  Between the osteogenesis imperfecta, the bulimia, the festering questions of abortion and adoption, and the painful legal term Wrongful Birth, there was so little light it was like reading a nightmare.  Maybe that was how it was supposed to feel, but it didn't make me like it any better.

Rating:  5.5 / 10

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