10 June 2009

Book Review: Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult - Handle with CareHandle With Care is possibly one of Jodi's most controversial books, with an impossible question at the heart of it. Willow O'Keefe was born with OI - Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a brittle bone disease which means even a sneeze can break several bones.

Her sister Amelia and parents Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe do their best to look after her but are stressed out due to the pressure of caring for such a sick young girl, and are also in financial trouble. Charlotte is thrown a lifeline when someone tells her she can sue her obstetrician for not warning her of Willow's condition when she was pregnant.

But suing would mean Charlotte has to admit she would have aborted her baby if she had known. Oh and not to mention the fact that Charlotte's obstetrician is her best friend Piper...

The topic of abortion is always going to be one of the most controversial topics that anyone, be it an author or just a normal person on the street can discuss, so to approach it in this manner in a book was an interesting choice for Picoult. People will always have their own views on abortion, but this novel goes further, bringing up the issue of abortion when you've found out your child has a severe disability and admitting such in a court of law in a malpractice suit. It does seem like a cold and heartless thing for anyone to admit, let alone a mother, but this book attempts to go into the detail of why Charlotte is about to admit just that, and the effects this has on not only Charlotte, but Willow and the rest of the family as well.

Picoult has continued using a winning formula for her which is multiple narration throughout the book. This serves well for the author as she can really broaden the storyline through each of her chosen narrators, but also works well for the reading audience as well because we are given opportunity to read a balanced story from multiple viewpoints and consequently are thrown deep into the story, and become totally consumed by the whole thing. In my book, each of the narrators are written in a different type-font to help with differentiating them, but to be honest this wasn't necessary as I found it easy enough to tell who was narrating at any point without even reading the name of the narrator at the beginning of the chapter.

All of the characters were very well written as you'd expect from a Picoult novel, and I liked all of them in different ways. We see the most of Charlotte O'Keefe, and indeed she is the narrator for much of the early book. Through this, we get to learn about her pregnancy, finding out Willow has OI and the beginnings of filing a lawsuit. However, as the story progresses the narration gathers pace to signify the importance of what is going on. We see a lot of Charlotte's husband and Willow's father Sean, a local cop who is struggling with his wife's decision to say Willow was a 'wrongful birth', whether or not its the truth. He is possibly the character I loved the most, a very honest and honourable man determined to do the best by his children whatever the cost.

We hear from Charlotte's older child Amelia intermitently throughout the book, and for me this is a very interesting choice of narrator, not just because of her age but because Picoult has to delve deeper to make her realistic and to get into the mindset of a very confused teenager. She does this brilliant and Amelia is possibly one of the most, if not THE most complex character of all. Other narrators include Marin, Charlotte's lawyer who is battling with her own problems behind the scenes and occasionally the wronged friend Piper. Each of them is easy to read, highlighting different parts of this story which has affected their life and overall, it comes together with a very strong story which is carried so well mainly because of these characters. Incidentally, the main person in this story isn't a narrator at all, instead the rest of dialogue is aimed at Willow as if they are writing a book for her which is an interesting way to go for a novel like this.

In terms of medical knowledge, the author has clearly done her research when writing this book. Although a lot of the medical terminology used in the book sounds fancy, they are used appropriately and are weaved into the book seamlessly. The condition of OI is thoroughly explained to the reader during the story, and I had no problems picking up all of the elements at all. In fact, finding about the condition was fascinating and reading about its knock-on effects, not just to the sufferer, but to the family as well was very well documented. Picoult doesn't shy away from complex subjects within the book, from descriptions of how Willow copes with day to day life, to descriptions of what happens when she breaks a bone and even what happens with a newborn with OI, which admittedly did make me cringe slightly in parts.

Jodi Picoult has come up trumps with this book, and has tackled a very difficult and controversial subject with emotion, finesse and most of all a real empathy for all of the characters. I felt that, from the blurb, I would hate Charlotte simply because of what she is doing to her daughter and family, but the way she is written makes that impossible. She is a sympathetic character, and as a mother I felt her pain when not being able to do anything when her daughter was in immense pain herself. Relationships are probably the main focus in the book, from marriage, to siblings to parent and child, and how these change and adapt according to difficult circumstances. The individual stories keep the book flowing, and the different twists and turns for each of the characters allow a deep story with many repurcussions, one that won't be so obvious at the beginning and others that may be so. I could not put this book down, reading it in just a couple of days whenever I had a couple of minutes, and feeling sad at the end that my new book had come to a very satisfactory if peculiar ending. I cannot recommend it enough, simply brilliant as ever.

Rating: 5/5


  1. Ooh, I'm so glad you reviewed this, it's one of my Picoult favourites! I got a proof of it back in December in read it in one day (true story), I just couldn't put it down. I agree with everything you've already stated - the characters are well written, the medical info is not too confusing, the problem is dealt with in a very interesting way. I wasn't too sure about the ending, I wouldn't exactly describe it as satisfactory myself, but I just told myself that that's how life is and everything can't always work out. The only minor complaint I have about this book is that it was too similar to My Sister's Keeper, which is obviously her most successful novel (also the first one I read that got me into her works) so I just figured she sort of wanted to copy that "winning formula", perhaps even a bit too obviously at times ... But I'm not complaining at all, I really enjoyed the novel as such and would also strongly recommend it to Picoult fans and strangers alike!

    Anyway, I'm always happy to meet other Picoult fans! :D Which other books by her have you read? Which did you enjoy the most and which the least? :)

  2. I hated The Tenth Circle, just couldn't get into it or Second Glance. I've loved all of her other books, especially Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, My Sister's Keeper, Perfect Match, Keeping Faith and Plain Truth. I think I've read everything she has written now!

    Thank you for the comment, glad you liked the review :)

  3. Keeping Faith was a good one too!!! I agree Tenth Circle does take a while to get into. But must say still love Jodi Picoult!!

  4. I LOVED this book, but like with "My Sister's Keeper" I thought the ending was a cop out. I don't mean to sound heartless but that Willow died was all a little too convenient - it meant they never needed to spend the $8 million which they were all so clearly uncomfortable with being awarded hence why it was still pinned up on the fridge (or wherever!) and was able to be buried with Willow.

    Despite this I have, at least, liked all of Picoult's books (well, except "Second Glance" which 2 years on I still haven't finished and "The Tenth Circle" was weird, and doesn't get any less weirder with each read! "Songs Of The Humpback Whale" was a bit blah too) though some are better than others. Favourites are "Nineteen Minutes", "The Pact", and "Keeping Faith".

    She has a "new" one out "Picture Perfect" - My copy came from Amazon yesterday. I say "new" because it's been out forever in the US, but I think has only just been published here!

  5. just reading this book now! its a great read cant put it down!