Handle with Care (Picoult)

Summary
Jodi Picoult, 2008
Simon & Schuster
480 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780743296427


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, well, 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 should have 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 brings us into the heart of a family bound by an incredible burden, a desperate will to keep their ties from breaking, and, ultimately, a powerful capacity for love. Written with the grace and wisdom she's become famous for, beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult offers us an unforgettable novel about the fragility of life and the lengths we will go to protect it. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—May 19, 1966
Where—Nesconset (Long Island), New York, USA
Education—B.A., Princeton University; M.Ed., Harvard University
Currently—lives in Hanover, New Hampshire


Jodi Lynn Picoult is an American author. She was awarded the New England Bookseller Award for fiction in 2003. Picoult currently has approximately 14 million copies of her books in print worldwide.

Early life and education
Picoult was born and raised in Nesconset on Long Island in New York State; when she was 13, her family moved to New Hampshire. Even as a child, Picoult had a penchant for writing stories: she wrote her first story— "The Lobster Which Misunderstood"—when she was five.

While still in college—she studied writing at Princeton University—Picoult published two short stories in Seventeen magazine. To pay the bills, after graduation she worked at a variety of jobs, including copy writing and editing textbooks; she even taught eighth-grade English and attained a Masters in Education from Harvard University.

In 1989, Picoult married Timothy Warren Van Leer, whom she met in college, and while pregnant with their first child, wrote her first book. Song of the Humpbacked Whale, her literary debut, came out in 1992. Two more children followed, as did a string of bestseller novels. All told, Picoult has more than 20 books to her name.

Writing
At an earlier time in her life, Picoult believed the tranquility of family life in small-town New England offered little fodder for writing; the truly interesting stuff of fiction happened elsewhere. Ironically, it is small-town life that has ended up providing the settings for Picoult's novels. Within the cozy surroundings of family and friends, Picoult weaves complex webs of relationships that strain, even tear apart, under stress. She excels at portraying ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Disoriented by some accident of chance, they stumble, whirl, and attempt to regain a footing in what was once their calm, ordered world.

Nor has Picoult ever shied from tackling difficult, controversial issues: school shooting, domestic violence, sexual abuse, teen suicide, and racism. She approaches painful topics with sympathy—and her characters with respect—while shining a light on individual struggles. Her legions of readers have loved and rewarded her for that compassion—and her novels have been consistent bestsellers.

Personal life
Picoult and her husband Timothy live in Hanover, New Hampshire. They have three children and a handful of pets. (Adapted from a 2003 Barnes and Noble interview and from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/28/2016.)



Book Reviews
It's well written, it's conscientiously researched and, most important, it presents a character who is a child instead of a disability personified.... Handle With Care is a great read, with strong characters, an exciting lawsuit to pull you along and really good use of the medical context. Picoult does a terrific job of evoking [osteogenesis imperfecta] and its peculiarities—from the likelihood that parents might be accused of child abuse (because of fractures that don't quite "make sense") to the incessant push and pull of wanting a child to experience kindergarten friendships, Disney World and ice skating, while worrying constantly that another fragile bone will break.
Perri Klass - Washington Post


Picoult, a master of the domestic landscape, creates a dramatic page turner, relentlessly driving home what doctors tell Charlotte at Willow’s birth: “You can’t live a life without impact. (Four stars.)
People


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.
Publishers Weekly


Fans of popular author Picoult won't be disappointed with her newest novel, which offers a glimpse into the life of a family whose daughter is born with a severe medical condition that could have been prevented, but at what cost? Sean and Charlotte O'Keefe's magical world is turned upside down when daughter Willow is born with brittle bone disease, a disease so severe that Charlotte is forced into the role of caretaker for Willow and emotionally abandoning older daughter Amelia. It's only when Charlotte decides to sue for wrongful death that the family begins to unravel—even if the reason for the lawsuit is for Willow's future. In order to win the lawsuit, Willow's parents have to claim that they would have aborted her if they had known about her condition, a claim that is so abhorrent that it literally fractures the family. Picoult's novels are like Russian nesting dolls, with each plot unveiling a subplot, leading to an ending that readers never see coming. Highly recommended for all public libraries.
Library Journal


Picoult has carved an impressive niche in the topical family drama genre, tackling medical ethics, faith, and the law in her sixteenth novel.... In her customary fashion, Picoult probes these sensitive issues with empathy and compassion. —Deborah Donovan
Booklist


Told through multiple points of view, this suspenseful story explores questions of medical ethics and personal choice, pinpointing the fragile and delicate fault lines that span out from personal tragedy and disability.
Kirkus Reviews



Book Club Discussion Questions
1. Charlotte and Sean are faced with a very difficult decision when presented with the option of suing for wrongful birth. How did you feel about the lawsuit? The matter is complicated in many aspects, but especially because of Charlotte’s close friendship with Piper, her ob-gyn. How might the O’Keefes have considered and entered into the lawsuit if they had not had a personal relationship with Piper? Would your own reaction to it have changed?

2. During the filming of a day in Willow’s life, Charlotte purposely asks Willow’s physical therapist to try some exercises that she knows Willow isn’t ready for yet, and Willow begins to cry in pain. Charlotte rushes to her daughter’s side, blaming the physical therapist, and when she asks if they got that on film, Marin—Charlotte’s lawyer—is angry at Charlotte for exploiting her daughter. Do you agree with Marin that Charlotte exploits Willow? Charlotte believes she is doing everything out of love for Willow, to win the case that will get her the care she needs, but does this take it too far? Where can we draw the line?

3. Breaking is a theme in Handle with Care: bones break, hearts break, friendships break, families break. Consider examples from the book and discuss why you think certain breaks can or cannot be mended. Is there anything in the book that represents the unbreakable?

4. The author inserts recipes throughout the book that highlight certain baking techniques, such as tempering, blind baking, and weeping. How do these recipes provide further insight into the story and into Charlotte’s character in particular?

5. Throughout the story, the question is raised of what it means to be a mother. For Charlotte, it means doing anything in her power to provide the best life for Willow, but at the same time, her other daughter’s suffering goes unnoticed as she develops bulimia and begins cutting herself. For Marin, the question of what it means to be a mother addresses the issues of her adoption. Is a mother someone who gives birth to you and gives you away, or the woman who raises you? Discuss the different ideas about mothering that the author presents in this book. At what moments do certain characters fail or succeed at being a mother?

6. The term wrongful birth suggests that some people never should have been born. If abortion had been legal when Marin was conceived, she likely would not have been born. Willow’s severe disability, had Charlotte known about it early enough, could have been cause for abortion. How do we determine what kind of life is worth living? Who has the right to say whether a pregnancy should be brought to term?

7. Discuss the roles that honesty and deception play in this novel. How do the characters lie to themselves? To each other? Is it sometimes better not to know the truth?

8. Charlotte is confident that the potential end of her lawsuit will justify the means, but Sean can’t handle the idea that the means may leave Willow thinking she is unloved or unwanted. Clearly, they both love their daughter, but express it in drastically different ways. What do each of their approaches say about love? Do Charlotte’s actions speak louder than Sean’s words?

9. What message does the trial verdict send? Do you agree with the jury’s decision?

10. How do you think Amelia’s testimony affects the outcome of the case?

11. We follow Marin through the search for her birth mother, and what she eventually finds out about the circumstances surrounding her conception are truly devastating to her. Why do you think she thanks her birth mother for this information? Discuss Marin’s reaction to what she learns.

12. Why do you think the O’Keefes never cash their $8 million check? How do you feel about what they end up doing with it?

13. How do you feel about the ending? Why do you think the author chose to write it this way?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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