The Book Junkie


            Jodi Picoult’s Handle with Care is a beautifully written, powerful, and painful story. Willow has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), also known as brittle bone disease. Even in-utero, seven of her bones break. Two more break as she’s being born. Her life is defined by being breakable; even her family’s focus is on her condition rather than her. “Handle with Care” is the story of that family, their struggles to keep Willow safe and build a better life for her, and ultimately, their struggle to remain a family.

            Told from multiple points of view, including her mother Charlotte, her father Sean, and her sister Amelia, the story gives us an inside look at Willow’s family and friends, and how their lives revolve around her OI, protecting her not just from physical pain, but from the world. Willow’s parents and sister are always on guard for the breaks that happen too often and too easily. Told from the second person point of view, the story isn’t so much told about Willow as it’s told to her.  Willow is a brave, strong, and delightful child, who, since most physical activities are forbidden, immerses herself in reading and learning. This means that, at six years old, she talks more like an adult than a child—even though her OI means she looks about three years old. She understands so much more of what’s going on around her that she should, including the fact that her family is falling apart because of their struggle to make her life better. When her parents talk to a lawyer they find out that they might have a case against Charlotte’s OB for not realizing earlier in her pregnancy that her baby had OI. Desperate to get everything she can for Willow, Charlotte pursues the case in hopes of winning a settlement large enough to guarantee a good life for her child. Making the situation stickier is that the doctor is Charlotte’s best friend, Sean disagrees with the suit and Charlotte’s  and can’t bring himself to fight for the same cause,  and to win the case for wrongful birth means telling the world—including Willow—that the family wishes Willow had never been born. Even though that’s not the case, caring for Willow takes more money than the family can afford. The wrongful birth suit has the potential to solve their financial problems.

            The far bigger problem, though, is that pursuing the case tears the family apart. In pushing for Willow’s care, Charlotte pushes away her husband, taking them to the brink of divorce. Amelia is in such pain that she becomes self-destructive, cutting and deliberately purging to feel in control. And Willow—despite Charlotte’s reassurances—believes the lies that her mother is telling the world. She believes that her family doesn’t want her. She thinks that, if she can just stop breaking, they’ll want to keep her.  Fighting for Willow ends up breaking the family into pieces. Their love for each other and their struggle to see to everyone’s welfare tears the family down, but then it builds it back up again. Once Charlotte and Sean really look at each other’s motivations, they find their family again, and start to fight for that, not just for money. The love the whole family shares for one another and for Willow comes full circle, making them a stronger unit than before.



             We only get Willow’s point of view at the very end, an end that, despite the restoration of her family, is much more bitter than sweet. Once the family finally has what they need, they suddenly lose what they’ve been fighting for all along: Willow herself. In a final moment of self-confidence and independence, Willow boldly makes a mistake that takes her life. I suppose it was inevitable, but I never expected Willow’s death. The story fooled me into thinking that she would live happily ever after. Looking back, I should have anticipated; as I mentioned, the story is told to Willow, not about or by her, and in literature as in life, we often lose what we fight hardest for.  Despite my love of happy endings, real life doesn’t work that way.

            I loved the story of Willow and her family, and I don’t regret reading it. However, I needed the story to continue just a bit longer. I needed to see more of how Charlotte, Sean, and Amelia survive without Willow. Having fallen in love with Willow over the course of the book, losing her was painful. I got to the last chapter with no inkling that she wasn’t going to have a long, fulfilling life. After the lawsuit, her life is fulfilling, but not nearly long enough. Having fallen in love with Willow’s family, it was equally devastating not to see how they recover from her death. Oh, there’s a hint at the end, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy me that the characters I’d come to care for managed to thrive the way I needed them to so I could have closure at the end of the book.

            Handle with Care is a wonderful story, and well worth reading. Just be sure to have tissues handy.

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