Willow O’Keefe is born with type III osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle-bones disease, a serious condition that condemns her to a lifetime of breaks, trips to the hospital, frequent and prolonged need of a wheelchair and other walking aides. Her parents seem to cope pretty well, and although the mother, Charlotte, former baking chef in a restaurant, had to quit working to take full-time care of her daughter, they are mostly a happy family.

But one day, after a disastrous Disneyland trip ending in a fracture of both femurs for Willow, and an overnight stay of the parents in prison for suspicion of beating their daughter, Sean O’Keefe wants to sue. It turns out that both the Disneyland staff and the police turn out to be blameless, but one person is, not at all the person they had set out to sue: it is Piper Rice, the obstetrician who followed Charlotte’s pregnancy and is also her best friend, has failed to detect alarming signals in the first ultrasound of Willow. Had she alerted her then, Charlotte would have had a choice to terminate the pregnancy early on. But Charlotte is also a catholic who was dying to have a second child with her husband (she also has Amelia, whose father she left long ago), and would not have chosen to terminate a pregnancy no matter what: she decides to lie to the court taking the risk sending of a wrong message to her six-year-old daughter. To ensure Willow the financial future she thinks she deserves, she will have to tell the Court that she wishes her daughter had never been born…

Let me start by saying that Handle with Care is my least favorite of Jodi Picoult’s novels so far. Jodi Picoult is famous for her courtroom dramas, and she usually raises difficult topics where you can manage to see the problems under several angles, and find yourself at difficulty to decide where is the right or wrong. To put it more simply, she confronts the reader with dilemmas, and the reading groups with long hours of debating. Handle with Care, while trying to fit into this category of novels, present a lot of problems: first of all, there is no dilemma here. Charlotte O’Keefe had the choice (late in the pregnancy, and not as early has she could have, but still), to terminate the pregnancy, provided she took the plane to fly into another state to have the procedure. She didn’t. Years later she sues her OB gyn (who is also her best friend) just because the opportunity presents itself? She should not even have been able to make it to trial! I won’t write about the other problems the plot raised, since it would be giving away to much of the story, but I think it is just not holding itself together convincingly. The character of the story is completely unlikable, in her single mindedness, her wish to win the money to help later a daughter who needs her right now, in her refusal to back away when she realizes that her actions wreck her entourage (her husband asks for divorce, her other daughter, who is rarely mentioned by her mother, is bulimic, her best friend loses all confidence in herself as a gynecologist as a result of the law suit, and her younger daughter, Willow, for whom she does it all, believes her mother wants to get rid of her). This is not especially a problem for me to find the main character unlikeable (this is a novel, I don’t feel like some readers do, resentful that the main character is not nice: I don’t have to like the protagonists, I don’t live with them, they are creation from someone else’s mind), but, as the end shows, there is no consistency to her character, who finally backs off in a way when there is no more reason to back off, and this bothered me. as I said, the story does not hold itself together, there are serious holes in Jodi Picoult’s edifice, this time…

Also, another big problem with this novel, and that I already had with others (Change of Heart, for instance) is that instead of breaking new grounds, it deals with themes that Jodi Picoult has already covered elsewhere: the whole problematic about taking care of the sick child while (unintentionally) neglecting the other is at the core of My Sister’s Keeper (many readers have pointed out the resemblance between the two novels: if you have to chose one of them, Read My Sister’s Keeper, much better than this one), and the risk of one day coming to the “designer baby” by choosing who lives or dies according to prenatal screenings is already very convincingly treated in Second Glance, one of Picoult’s best novel, about a child with another serious genetic condition, xeroderma pigmentosum). There is decidedly nothing really new in Handle with Care. Many readers had trouble with how the novel ended: I didn’t. I think this was the only element of the plot that made sense, since it was Picoult’s way to take a stand about the whole lawsuit. There is a lesson to be learned behind the ending, even if the reader did not like it…

Rating: 2,5/5