Sunday, May 31, 2009

Handle with Care

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster
March 2009
Hardcover - 453 pages
contemporary literature
ISBN-13: 9780743296410
Very Highly recommended

Synopsis from the Cover:
Every expectant parent will tell you that they don't want a perfect baby, just a healthy one. Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe would have asked for a healthy baby, too, if they'd been given the choice. Instead, their lives are made up of sleepless nights, mounting bills, the pitying stares of "luckier" parents, and maybe worst of all, the what-ifs. What if their child had been born healthy? But it's all worth it because Willow is, well, funny as it seems, perfect. She's smart as a whip, on her way to being as pretty as her mother, kind, brave, and for a five-year-old an unexpectedly deep source of wisdom. Willow is Willow, in sickness and in health.
Everything changes, though, after a series of events forces Charlotte and her husband to confront the most serious what-ifs of all. What if Charlotte should have known earlier of Willow's illness? What if things could have been different? What if their beloved Willow had never been born? To do Willow justice, Charlotte must ask herself these questions and one more. What constitutes a valuable life?

Emotionally riveting and profoundly moving, Handle with Care brings us into the heart of a family bound by an incredible burden, a desperate will to keep their ties from breaking, and, ultimately, a powerful capacity for love. Written with the grace and wisdom she's become famous for, beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult offers us an unforgettable novel about the fragility of life and the lengths we will go to protect it.

The O'Keefe's were just an average blended family until they have a daughter, Willow, who has an extraordinary disease, OI, or osteogenesis imperfecta - brittle bone disease. The chapters in Handle with Care are all from the point of view of several different characters in the novel: Charlotte, Willow's mother; Sean, Willow's father; Amelia, her sister; Marin, an attorney; Piper, a doctor and friend. There are also several recipes scattered throughout the book, from Charlotte, a former pastry chef, that include more than just instructions. I found this technique of alternating between character's voices, which Picoult has used before, to be very effective. Jodi Picoult is extremely good at what she does best, looking at the gray areas found within current social issues in her novels, and I can't help but think some reviewers are trying to punish her for this fact. I didn't find Handle with Care to be formulaic. Yes, I could tell Picoult wrote it, but that's a complement and a homage to her skill. No spoilers about the ending but to those who complained about it, I found it very believable. I think Handle with Care, like most of Picoult's novels, would make for a great book group discussion.
Very Highly recommended


Things break all the time. Glass, and dishes, and fingernails. Cars and contracts and potato chips. You can break a record, a horse, a dollar. You can break the ice. There are coffee breaks and lunch breaks and prison breaks. Day breaks, waves break, voices break. Chains can be broken. So can silence, and fever.
For the last two months of my pregnancy, I made lists of these things, in the hopes that it would make your birth easier.
Promises break.
Hearts break. opening

I gave birth shortly after three, but I didn't see you again until it was eight p.m. Every half hour, Sean left to get an update: She's being X-rayed. They're drawing blood. They think her ankle might be broken, too. And then, at six o'clock, he brought the best news of all: Type III, he said. She's got seven healing fractures and four new ones, but she's breathing fine. I lay in the hospital bed, smiling uncontrollably, certain that I was the only mother in the birthing center who had ever been delighted with news like this.
For two months now, we had known that you'd be born with OI — osteogenesis imperfecta, two letters of the alphabet that would become second nature. It was a collagen defect that caused bones so brittle they might break with a stumble, a twist, a sneeze. There were several types — but only two presented with fractures in utero, like we'd seen on my ultrasound. And yet the radiologist could still not conclusively say whether you had Type II, which was fatal at birth, or Type III, which was severe and progressively deforming. Now I knew that you might have hundreds more breaks over the years, but it hardly mattered: you would have a lifetime in which to sustain them. pg. 6

When she didn't answer, I walked to the other side of the bassinet, so that you were caught between us like a secret. "Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?"
For a long time, Piper didn't respond. We listened to the symphony of whirs and beeps that surrounded you. I watched you startle, your tiny toes curling up, your arms open wide. "Not the rest of your life," Piper said. "Willow's."
Later that day, with Piper's words ringing in my ears, I signed the do not resuscitate order. It was a plea for mercy in black and white, until you read between the lines: here was the first time I lied, and said that I wished you'd never been born. pg. 10-11

People ask all the time how I'm doing, but the truth is, they don't really want to know. They look at your casts....They smile at me....but the whole time they are thinking, Thank God. Thank God it was her, instead of me. pg. 36

Pick ten strangers and stick them in a room, and ask them which one of us they feel sorrier for - you or me - and we all know who they'll choose. It's kind of hard to look past your casts; and the fact that you're the size of a two-year-old, even though you're five; and the funny twitch of your hips when you're healthy enough to walk." pg. 18

Everything that had ever been good and kind in me, everything people imagined me to be, had been poisoned by the part of me that had wished, in the darkest crack of the night, that I could have a different family. The real me was a disgusting person who imagined a life where you had never been born. pg. 26

My heart had turned into a ball of rubber bands, and they were snapping, one by one. pg. 228

Dr. Rosenblad had given us a note years ago that should have served as a Get Out of Jail Free card, because lots of parents with OI kids are accused of child abuse when the case history isn't known - and Charlotte's always carried it around in the minivan, just in case. But today, with everything we had to remember to pack for the trip, the letter was forgotten, and what we got instead was a trip to the police station for interrogation. pg. 28

"Would you be willing to release your medical records to us? We'll have to do some research on whether or not you have a cause of action-"
"I thought we didn't have a lawsuit," I said.
"You might, Officer O'Keefe.....Just not the one you thought." pg. 47

1 comment:

Luxembourg said...

Picoult continues to weave magical yet realistic stories that revolve around controversial subjects. Her characters are so alive and each of them is immensely flawed but hard to dislike. I was, however, a bit disappointed at the slight unoriginality of the plot, for I felt it was a little too similar to that of "My Sister'e Keeper". All of Picoult's books are stunners, but I'd like branch out of her comfort zone and perhaps experiment more. But overall, "Handle With Care" was a beautiful, poignant read.