Handle With Care, Jodi Picoult's latest novel, is the story of the O'Keefe family: Sean, a police officer; Charlotte, a former pastry chef turned full-time mother and caretaker; Amelia, a 13-year-old yearning for independence and control over her life; and Willow, a 5-year-old struggling with OI, brittle bone disease. Day-to-day life is stressful enough for this struggling family, but a trip to Disney World turns disastrous. Willow falls and breaks a bone, and they're rushed to the hospital, seemingly at the relief of park employees. Willow's x-rays raise red flags of abuse, and Amelia spends the night in a foster home, while the parents are separated and interrogated. It's gut-wrenching, and the reader understands the caution from the police and hospital while knowing these parents are loving. From there, the story spirals out of control.
Sean wants to sue for what they went through in Florida, but the lawyer says that's not a case. A wrongful birth suit is an option, however. Did I mention Charlotte's obgyn is not only her best friend but the one who introduced her to Sean? Perhaps it's because I don't have children, but I found Charlotte to a completely unsympathetic character. I was upset that Picoult's thanks and acknowledgments at the beginning of the book included a spoiler. She mentions she changed the process of how jury's are selected in New Hampshire. I imagine there would have been much more suspense about if a trial would actually happen in the first half of the book if I didn't read in the thank yous that one did. Keep in mind, I try to avoid book flap summaries for spoilers too; I like to go into books (and movies) knowing little to nothing about the plot. I rely on the opinions of reviewers and friends much more than on plot synopses.
Part of me loved the book; I read it's almost 500 pages in less than 24 hours. I even found myself most engrossed with Marin, Charlotte's lawyer, searching for her own birth mother. I found her storyline most compelling. Wrongful birth is a fascinating issue, but it's an issue tied to the broken health insurance system in this country. Socialized medicine would alleviate all of the problems Charlotte faced, and as an advocate for equal access to health care regardless of disease, condition or income, I found myself bogged down in not only the politics of choice but of the inherent flaws in a health insurance system seeking to make money rather than help and protect people.
Politics aside, the book seemed rather formulaic. I realize I just finished My Sister's Keeper last week, but it felt like a retelling of that story with some of the medical details and legal details changed. The surprise ending wasn't much of a surprise, and I found it to be a cop-out. Again, it all comes back to Charlotte being a character I couldn't quite rally myself behind. I think the set-up and the idea of this story was fantastic, and I certainly learned a lot. I even enjoyed reading it enough to read it quite quickly, but I can't say I loved it. It is a book I would recommend most strongly for book clubs. The themes and ideas raised in this book are ripe for discussion, but it's not a book I loved.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)