Monday, June 28, 2010

Review: “Handle With Care” by Jodi Picoult

Handle With Care is a novel about a family who’s young daughter suffered from Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or brittle bone syndrome.  At five years old, she has suffered over fifty bone breaks and spends much of her time in a wheelchair.  The emotional and financial stress this disease has put on the family is overwhelming.  As a result, the mother, Charlotte, decides to file a lawsuit for Wrongful Birth, alleging that if her OB had told her earlier in her pregnancy that her daughter would be this severely handicapped, she would have aborted the fetus.  There are many moral dilemmas attached to this lawsuit, Charlotte has to say she wishes her daughter had never been born and her OB is her best friend, Piper. 

 I have read just about everything Jodi Picoult has written.  There is a formula to her books.  There is always an impossible moral dilemma which there is no easy answer to.  She usually shows the problem from many different viewpoints by switching narrators for each chapter.  These moral dilemmas usually involve an insanely protective mother and a much more sympathetic father.  The siblings are usually screwed up with their own problems that the parents just can’t see because they are too wrapped up in the moral dilemma.  There is usually a big twist at the end.  While this is formulaic for Picoult, the formula works for her.  Each of her books teaches me about a subject I formerly knew little about.  The layers built up by the sub-plots and multiple viewpoints are intriguing and add depth to the writing.  The books are also fiercely entertaining.  I can read one in about a day if I have time to spend on it.  A perfect way to spend an afternoon. 

My one frustration with Picoult’s books, and it happened again in Handle With Care, is that the mother characters are unsympathetic, unreasonable, and stubborn.  I have a really hard time liking them.  In Handle With Care, Charlotte is willing to rip apart her family, ruin a decade long friendship and perjure herself in court in order to obtain a big payout in a malpractice suit.  Yes, money is tight with her, and yes, her daughter’s medical bills are ridiculous, but I have a really hard time with people who are so money focused that they would sacrifice everything for it.  Do to her decision to sue, she ruined the career of her best friend, caused her healthy daughter to lose all of her friends at school, cause her husband to testify for the defense and file for divorce, cause her handicapped daughter to feel like a burden and that she should have never been born.  Really?  Was it worth it?

I emailed Jodi Picoult a couple years ago after reading another one of her books in which the mother character drove me crazy.  I asked her why she is so hard on mothers and why they are so unsympathetic.  She said that as a mother herself, she finds it is the hardest and also most important job in the world.  It is easy to be blinded by what you see as protecting your kids and make mistakes.  This is why she is so hard on the mothers in her books. Okay, I get that, but she has written almost twenty books and ALL of the mother characters are monsters.  I’m not a mother myself, but I’m curious what women with kids think about this issue. 

I also thought the POV was awkward in this book.  Picoult wrote it in the second person, which is very difficult to pull off.  This is where one character tells the story to another character using “you.”  The multiple narrators were telling the story to Willow, the six year old handicapped daughter.  I didn’t feel this was realistic or consistent.  Why would a parent tell their little girl about having sex the family laundry room?  It didn’t make sense.  Picoult should stick to the first person POV like she uses in her other books.

Overall, I give Handle With Care

Plot – 3 bookmarks.  (slightly predictable for someone who has read a lot of her books, but entertaining nonetheless.)
Moral Dilemma – 4 ½ bookmarks.  (I like that Picoult shows all sides.)
Character Development – 3 bookmarks
Courtroom Drama – 3 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Bridgette Andersen when she was six years old (Willow), Sara Clarke (Charlotte), Brad Pitt (Sean), Uma Thurman (Piper)


  1. I read only one of Jodi Picoult's books, "My Sister's Keeper." I hated it, mostly because of the mother's character, although there were a few other off-putting faults as well. As a mother, I can't help but feel she got it all wrong. If her other books are equally as bad, I wouldn't be interested in reading them.

  2. Her mother characters are a lot to handle. That seems to be a recurring theme in her books. On the other hand, I like her plots and the moral dilemmas. That is what keeps me reading.