Handle With Care
Simon & Schuster
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". . . treads the difficult and often painful territory of a family in crisis with care and insight . . ."
Two families in crisis over wrongful birth lawsuit.
Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI): Also known as Brittle Bone Disease, genetic disorder, bones break easily from little or no apparent cause.
A trip to Disney World for vacation is everything Amelia O’Keefe dreamed of, until Willow slipped on a paper napkin and fell, breaking both legs. Her mom and dad raced to the hospital emergency room and ended up in jail. Amelia forgot to get the letter from Willow’s doctor stating she had OI so the doctors in Florida called social services because they believed Willow was abused. One vacation ruined. Willow ended up in a plaster spica cast that made it difficult for her to sit in a normal position and she’d be in the cast for months. That’s when the real trouble started.
Sean O’Keefe is furious when he gets home to New Hampshire, not just because his fellow police officers teased him about being arrested, but because of the way he and his family were treated by the hospital staff. He wants to sue. The lawyer he contacts says they don’t have a case. The doctors and social services were just doing their jobs. After hearing more about Willow, the lawyer has another suggestion: sue Charlotte’s obstetrician for wrongful birth. Sean is even more furious. How could he and Charlotte sue their best friend or say that if they had known about Willow’s OI they would have aborted her? They love Willow.
A settlement would make their lives different and Willow would have everything she needs to make her life easier and give them some breathing room. A settlement also means that Sean can’t take care of his family. Charlotte is a devout Catholic. She wouldn’t have consented to an abortion—or would she? If her obstetrician –Piper, her best friend – had told her in time, would she have had an abortion?
Wrongful birth lawsuits are cropping up more and more, but how do you say aloud, in public, or in a courtroom in front of a jury of your peers that you wish you had aborted your child? What kind of mother would do that? That is the central question in Handle With Care and Jodi Picoult handles it from the viewpoints of the people involved.
Picoult envisions the story as a ticking time bomb that slowly erodes the central relationships as each person makes his or her case for how the lawsuit affects them. Like a toxic acid eating away at the plumbing in the O’Keefe’s home and causing leaks, the damage spreads out and away from the core. Each chapter is one point of view in a letter to Willow, unfolding as each person slowly unravels and deals with the destruction of their world, the guilt and doubt and anger growing and evolving until Willow finally speaks in the last chapter.
Handle With Care treads the difficult and often painful territory of a family in crisis with care and insight that shows in each characters’ heart and actions, exposing the fragile connections that keep a family together and apart. Picoult delineates a tragic situation and the morality and reality of a child with special needs and what a mother will do to keep her child safe and happy. Jodi Picoult has a special gift for creating a believable situation and filling it with characters that made me smile and laugh and cry, grateful to have shared the journey with them.
However, the last chapter left a bad taste in my mouth. There is nothing so frustrating or upsetting as to become emotionally invested in the characters and be cheated at the end.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell