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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, 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 had 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" is an unforgettable novel about the fragility of life and the lengths we will go to protect it.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 33.
- Review Date: 2008-12-15
- Reviewer: Staff
Perennial bestseller Picoult (Change of Heart) delivers another engrossing family drama, spiced with her trademark blend of medicine, law and love. Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe's daughter, Willow, was born with brittle bone disease, a condition that requires Charlotte to act as full-time caregiver and has strained their emotional and financial limits. Willow's teenaged half-sister, Amelia, suffers as well, overshadowed by Willow's needs and lost in her own adolescent turmoil. When Charlotte decides to sue for wrongful birth in order to obtain a settlement to ensure Willow's future, the already strained family begins to implode. Not only is the defendant Charlotte's longtime friend, but the case requires Charlotte and Sean to claim that had they known of Willow's condition, they would have terminated the pregnancy, a statement that strikes at the core of their faith and family. Picoult individualizes the alternating voices of the narrators more believably than she has previously, and weaves in subplots to underscore the themes of hope, regret, identity and family, leading up to her signature closing twists. (Mar.)
Picoult captures family's painful choice
Reproductive choice. Disabilities. Divorce. Cutting. Our tort-happy nation. Jodi Picoult has never been one to shy away from hot-button issues. But in her newest novel, Handle With Care, she out-Picoults herself by tackling all of the above-mentioned topics, and then some. In lesser hands, such an undertaking would be unwieldy at best, but Picoult delivers a deeply affecting story about one family struggling to do the right thing.
When Sean and Charlotte O'Keefe marry, he adopts her little girl, Amelia, and they immediately begin trying to conceive a second child. Charlotte is thrilled to get pregnant, but the fetus is diagnosed in utero with brittle bone syndrome. Even before birth, the fetus suffers numerous fractures, and doctors warn the O'Keefes that their baby will have a difficult, painful life.
And she does: Willow breaks bones in her sleep, while playing, even if her mother hits the brakes too hard while Willow is strapped into her car seat. The O'Keefes wouldn't trade their funny, smart daughter for anything, but they're consumed with worry and mounting debt. Charlotte thinks she's found the answer when a lawyer tells her that suing for medical malpractice could free them from their money problems. The only catch: Charlotte must sue her best friend and obstetrician, Piper Reece, on the grounds that if Piper had diagnosed their baby's condition earlier in the pregnancy, they could have chosen abortion.
Told alternatively from the points of view of Sean, Charlotte, Piper, Amelia and Charlotte's attorney, Marinall of whom speak directly to Willow in their narrationHandle with Care is everything faithful readers would expect from Picoult, handled in her thoughtful, elegiac prose. The book doesn't spoon-feed all the right answers or lionize the characters. Charlotte is sometimes strong but often all-too-human, second-guessing and justifying her own choices.
Provocative and complex, Handle with Care explores what it means to do something in the name of loveand what those choices say about us.
Amy Scribner lives with her family in Olympia, Washington.