Sunday, April 26, 2009

Title Thirty Two: Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

I don't want to review this book.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad book. It's beautifully written, poignant, thought-provoking, and sensitive. I think it's fantastic and the characters are true and flawed and shining. This might be one of the best books that Picoult has written; I look back at some of her earlier work and this one just shows a level of intensity and maturity that speaks to her talent. I don't want to review it because the ending broke my heart, and I don't want to think about it.

Instead I'll give you a quick recap, and I'll let you decide if you want to read it. Sean and Charlotte O'Keefe have two daughters; Amelia is Charlotte's daughter from a previous relationship and Willow is their miracle baby, who was born with a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, or OI. Also known as "brittle bone" disease, OI is caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation and its biggest result is the incredible delicacy of the bones; fractures can be caused by a bump into a table, a child hugged too tightly, a stumble over the edge of a rug, or simply a sudden movement. During a family trip to Disney World, Willow slips in an ice cream parlor and falls, fracturing her leg. Charlotte and Sean realize that the doctor's note they carry at all times, detailing Willow's disease, is home in their van in New Hampshire. They are arrested at the hospital on suspicion of child abuse and the girls are taken from them. It lasts only overnight, until Charlotte is able to contact Willow's doctor, but it ignites a fire in her. Upon returning home, Charlotte and Sean visit a lawyer, who tells them that they don't have a case against the police department in Florida but that they do have a case against the obstetrician who may have failed to diagnose Willow's condition early enough in Charlotte's pregnancy for her to terminate - a case called a "wrongful birth" lawsuit. This presents two major problems: one, Charlotte will have to testify that Willow should never have been born; two, the obstetrician in question is Charlotte's best friend, Piper.

What follows is a fracturing of the characters' lives - Charlotte and Sean are literally on opposite sides of the lawsuit, Charlotte and Piper's friendship is irrevocably shattered, Amelia turns inward on herself, and Willow tries to make sense of it all in her six-year-old mind. Picoult shows an amazing depth of understanding as she recounts the story in a way that keeps the reader engaged and shares information about an unknown disease, using it as a metaphor for the larger picture. I usually find subplots slightly tedious, but Picoult picks up pace with Charlotte's lawyer, Marin, who is herself adopted and searching for her birth mother, adding another dimension to the debate over termination in pregnancy.

It's an excellent book, and if you don't mind emotional reads then I certainly would suggest it. I just don't want to think about it anymore myself. Not for a little while, yet.

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