Review: Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

You know a book’s good when you fight past the oncoming drowsiness of sleeping pills at 2am, in order to just read a few more pages. Not very good for my insomnia perhaps, but I whole-heartedly think it was worth it.

Charlotte O’Keefe’s beautiful, much-longed-for, adored daughter Willow is born with osteogenesis imperfecta – a very severe form of brittle bone disease. If she slips on a crisp packet she could break both her legs, and spend six months in a half body cast. After years of caring for Willow, her family faces financial disaster. Then Charlotte is offered a lifeline. She could sue her obstetrician for wrongful birth – for not having diagnosed Willow’s condition early enough in the pregnancy to be able to abort the child. The payout could secure Willow’s future. But to get it would mean Charlotte suing her best friend. And standing up in court to declare that she would have prefered that Willow had never been born… 

I have a strange interest in medical ethics due to a module that I half-heartedly agreed to study at Law School and then loved. I love issues of consent, termination, euthanasia… anything to do with the medical world and the legal problems therein. It explains why I also loved the last Jodi Picoult book I read (my review of which is here), about a child’s refusal to donate organs to her dying sister. Handle with Care is very similar, using the familiar formula of family-related medical ethics and a trial in court.

I have a fair-weather relationship with Ms. Picoult – the two books that I’ve read and finished I absolutely adored. However, I started both The Pact and Salem Falls and couldn’t finish either of them. They deal with teenage suicide and false rape accusations respectively, and I didn’t find them nearly as interesting. Admittedly it was a while ago, but it taught me to stick to the medical issue books.

Obviously, they’re very similar. Both have a Mother at the heart of the legal action, a Father who doesn’t agree but just wants to keep his head down, ensuing marital problems and an ignored but troubled sibling.  I think that’s why these books get slated so much – their similarity. But so what!? The two I’ve read were both amazing. I’ve never known novels that could pull you in and really make you care for the characters like those by Jodi Picoult. They’re all real with their own personalities and flaws, and the dialogue is so believable that you have to remind yourself that it isn’t a documentary.

But whereas I liked the ending of My Sister’s Keeper, I didn’t like it here. I saw the ‘twist’ coming, but only because I’m familiar with her previous books. It reads like she shovelled it in purely because she needed a shocking ending to match those in all her books. It just didn’t feel necessary.

I particularly liked this book because it raised a few personal issues. In case you haven’t gathered from my continuous yet subtle hints, I’m taking my Bar course next year to study to be a lawyer. The attorney in this case, Marin, disagrees with the whole concept of Charlotte’s case whole-heartedly; she thinks it’s repulsive and immoral. However, she;s bound to represent her case  regardless of her own views. For me, this is an issue I’ve struggled with a few times – could I represent someone whose beliefs or actions thoroughly offended my own?

What it boils down to, in the end, is that every single review is going be biased depending on your moral standpoint and circumstances. I’ve read several where the reviewer thinks people like Charlotte O’Keefe should be steralised at birth and therefore see the entire plot concept as ugly and offensive. I’ve also read others more sympathetic to her financial situation and emotional struggles who therefore enjoyed the book more.

As for me… I loved the book and completely understood Charlotte. The beauty of Jodi Picoult’s writing lies in the continuous switching of narrative, which results in a full understanding of the thought processes of each character. In Handle with Care you see the reasoning of both the defendant and claimant, and therefore (ideally) sympathise with both. Although I can understand why what Charlotte did was controversial, it was Sean and his naivety that irritated me more. If it came right down to it, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have done the same.

Comments

  1. For some unbeknown reason, I always think of Jodi Picoult as a 'guilty pleasure'! Anyway, I agree with you that the medical ethics ones are the best – I'd recommend 'Mercy' (about euthanasia). I read 'Keeping Faith' though and didn't enjoy nearly as much because it was about a little girl, stigmata and a tv crew which was less interesting to me!

    That said, I liked 'Nineteen Minutes' and that was about a high school shooting…

  2. Hanna says:

    @Lit Addicted Brit – No, I know exactly what you mean. I think of her books as a guilty pleasure too.

    I've never heard of Mercy, but I'm going to look it up right after this. I have Keeping Faith on my TBR, but Nineteen Minutes doesn't sound like my kind of thing…

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