Handle with Care
by Jodi Picoult
Synopsis from Goodreads
Things break all the time.
Day breaks, waves break, voices break.
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?
As an author, I sometimes feel guilty giving bad reviews, but we’re not all going to like each other’s body of work. As such, I feel obligated to go into detail explaining my reason for bad ratings more than good, meaning this is going to be a long one and because I cannot explain my rating without giving away some spoilers, I’m going to post it up front.
If I could give Handle with Care a 0 I would. Since I cannot, I reluctantly give it a 1.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
More depressing than Pay it Forward; my synopsis:
Handle with Care is about a selfish woman who, in her pursuit of money, blames her best friend for her daughter’s existence, allows her marriage to fall apart, neglects both of her daughters, and ruins her best friend’s life… for no reason.
Absolutely hated Handle with Care. This is the first book I’ve reviewed that I wanted to give zero stars. As I said earlier, I feel obligated to explain in more detail than I would if I had liked it.
The chapters are broken up by narrator and written in an awkward first person style so that the narrator is talking to you, the reader, as if you are Willow, the girl with osteogenesis imperfecta. At first it didn’t bother me, but some of the content, some of the memories they were sharing were not stories you should ever tell a loved one. Often it came out as blame. You did this; this is how it made me feel; this is what I did because of it. There are certain that should only bee told to a psychiatrist. Amelia, your older sister narrates making herself throw up and cutting herself. She shares how frustrating it was when your parents would fawn over you for breaking a bone, but didn’t care at all about her.
There are some novels that have quotes at the beginning that I really enjoy. The Myth novels by Robert Asprin have quotes that really add to the story. Usually short, sweet, and funny. In Handle with Care, the story was interrupted by definitions of cooking terms and recipes that I didn’t feel comfortable skipping because it was an audio book and I didn’t want to skip ahead too far. If it had just been the baking term that was relevant to the story, I might have been less frustrated with it, but by the end I was groaning and fast forwarding the CD to not have to listen to how to bake a doughnut or whatever the interruption was.
I didn’t realize I was hypersensitive to bad parenting until reading this novel. I stopped reading the Xanth series by Piers Anthony when it changed generations and the characters I had fallen in love with turned into neglectful parents. I chewed the mother of In Leah’s Wake up one side and down the other for being a psychologist and not seeing the red flags in her own family. In Handle with Care, I was absolutely revolted with the parenting, or rather lack there of.
When you describe your child as “unrecognizable,” that should be a red flag, but the parents just didn’t have time to pay attention to the eldest daughter. The overwhelming message in the O’Keefe household was that if you weren’t perfect, you never should have been born. At points in the story, one daughter didn’t know if she was loved, the other had developed an eating disorder and begun cutting herself. When one daughter was found in the bathroom, having slit her wrist, the mother, in the process of suing her best friend for wrongful birth, was going to prove to her that her life was valuable by winning the lawsuit. What the f*ck kind of logic is that. I mean really. At this point, she knows her Willow is doubting whether or not her parents would be happier if she had never been born. Charlotte’s one track mind was always on the money, even intentionally physically hurting Willow to get it. “The ends justify the means,” she had said.
When I was telling my friend about it, she asked if I was overly sensitive because of my childhood. I am, but not in the way that sounds. My parents were the two most amazing people I could ask for. No, we did not always get along, but I never once doubted that I was loved. They supported my dreams, no matter how unattainable they might sound at first. They raised me to carve my own path and not follow blindly in the footsteps of others. As a psychologist, my mom taught me the red flags of a potentially abusive relationship or friend in trouble. Maybe I’m too hard on characters who don’t recognize the signs, because they are so clear to me.
Money does not solve everything
I would rather have the love and support of friends, family, and other people who understand what I’m going through or at least are sympathetic to my plight. Charlotte complains that even though people are sympathetic, no one offers to help. They send baked goods instead of offering to help shuttle the kids around or babysit for a night. The only woman who offers her time, taking Amelia shopping or driving her to skating, is the first person Charlotte stabs in the back the moment there’s a potential payout.
Obviously filing a wrongful birth lawsuit over a disability is going to upset people who have that disability. You are telling them that their life is not worth living, that the disease is so awful, you would have aborted a pregnancy because of it. Why then is Charlotte stupid enough to go to a convention for people with osteogenesis imperfecta and think she and Willow can participate with everyone else as equals. If she loved Willow, she would have wanted Willow to have the support of a group of people like her, rather than ostracizing her from the one group of people with whom she could fit in.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Charlotte has got to be one of the most dense characters I’ve ever had the frustration of tolerating. Actions speak louder than words. When she finds Willow questioning whether she is loved, whether her mother wants her, Charlotte tells Willow she’s loved and she wasn’t a mistake but continues to blame her now X best friend for her daughter’s birth. How is a six year old supposed to take that?
Not everything in the book was bad. It did have a few good nuggets. The one that sticks out to me most was a quote.
A dutiful mother follows her child’s every step. A good mother is one whose child wants to follow her.
I won’t give away the ending.
There are some stories that are so awful, there cannot be a happy ending. When there is, it feels fake, forced. You can’t tie up a bag of used kitty litter with a bow and make it into a good present because without the bow, it’s still a bag of cr*p. This was one of those stories, but the ending is what knocked it down from a 1 to a 0. It was what made it more depressing than Pay it Forward. Everything that happened, the doctor whose life was destroyed, the friendships that were broken, the emotional turmoil that could never be repaired was all for nothing. Not only that, there were certain logistics regarding payment to the lawyer that were impossible. I would not recommend this book to anyone, ever.
0 out of 5 stars.