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Handle with Care – Jodi Picoult
I have only ever read one other novel written by Jodi Picoult, which is possibly the same one that most people will know the name of either due to the book or its film adaptation; My Sisters Keeper. I absolutely loved this previous book, and the style of writing was so powerful that it made me want more. I am ashamed to say, though, that it has taken a number of months to continue on with her books. Within this time, I have actually purchased over half of her collection and they are all sitting on the bookshelves waiting for me to pick them up, though something which I have found is that, although I loved ‘My Sisters Keeper’, the subject matter in many of the books I have purchased are the sort in which you really need to be in the mood to read about. A lot of the time, I read fantasy books in which I can become lost in a whole other world, with Picoult’s novels, the subject matters, although not ones that have happened in my life, are exactly as though it is happening right in front of me in my reality. This, I find, is the difficult thing about her books.
Thankfully, after a number of months, I finally picked up ‘Handle With Care’ and began to read…
******************************** WHAT WOULD YOU DO? ********************************
Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe had been trying for a baby for years, and with the help of Charlotte’s best friend, she finally falls pregnant in her late 30’s. Late in the pregnancy, though, it is found that the baby has a number of broken bones which double when she is born. Willow O’Keefe has type III osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition causing extremely fragile bones otherwise known as severe brittle bone disease which will mean that she will suffer hundreds of painful broken bones as she goes through her life.
As the family struggle to make ends meet to cover Willow’s medical expenses, Charlotte goes to meet a lawyer who sends her on the path to what she believes will help them all in the future; filing a wrongful birth lawsuit against her gynaecologist for not telling her in advance that her child would be born severely disabled, and her gynaecologist is not just any doctor – she is Charlotte’s best friend.
As Charlotte prepares to go to court, ripples begin to tear apart everyone who is involved, especially between Charlotte, her husband and her two children, for Charlotte will have to stand in public and tell the world that she wishes that her daughter had never been born.
Having already read ‘My Sisters Keeper’, I already knew and felt comfortable with the style of writing, though even with this prior knowledge, I found that it took me quite a while to get used to the constant back and forth motion among all the characters. In simple terms, the book is written from the first persons point of view, though what makes this book a little more complex as well as making it extremely clever is the fact that it is written by more than
Pictures of Handle with Care - Jodi Picoult
Handle with Care - Jodi Picoult
one persons point of view; in the case of this book, seven different people tell their own part of the story. From beginning to end, each ‘chapter’ flits from one person to another, continuing the main story in their own words, bringing in their own thoughts and feelings we may not have come across if it had been written by the point of view of one person, or as a simple story with a main character. Everything which happens is related to the main story, and I found that by reading from all the different perspectives, we are able to really appreciate the story as a whole. Another unique form within this style is the way each character tells the story. In some ways it is rather like a journal/diary in the sense that there are many points in which dates are applied to the beginning of the page, with cookery notes slotted in between relating loosely to the happenings at the time (though in my opinion, not needed and a distraction to which I eventually started skipping over). In another sense, it is written as a letter to Willow herself. Each person wrote their point of view by addressing Willow. It is as though they are talking directly to her, telling her about her life story from each perspective. I found this a really interesting way of writing, and I feel that it made the story feel even more personal with such depth and feeling. It is something which may take some people a while to get used to, though I have read stories similar to this before, and none have pulled me in as much as this one did, and I think that is (in part) to do with this style of writing.
As well as the immaculate style this book takes, credit has to go to Picoult for her extremely vivid characters. In some ways, I feel that if the characters had not have been so ‘alive’ then the book would not have been so powerful. Of course, as I mentioned above, the story alone is nearly enough to have you captivated, yet the strength of the characters also play an extremely important role in the story. Each characterisation is, in my opinion, flawless. There is so much history and background to consider which is skilfully inserted into all parts of the story, bulking out the characters without being overwhelming. Everything about these characters; their backgrounds, their histories, their thoughts, feelings and situations, are all placed perfectly and nothing is there which should not be. Each character has their own distinct personalities and each fit around one another with such precision which seeps out of the pages in such strength and beauty.
What with the strength of story and amazing characters, it is hardly surprising that the flow is also well above average. The one issue which I did have, even though a very small issue, was the addition of the recipe pages. Every so often, before a new part of the book, there is a page or two which follows the form of a recipe. Before each recipe there is a small introduction from Charlotte (Charlotte being an ex-professional cook) which gives reason for the recipe, though apart from some being quite interesting in the way of wanting to make them myself, I found the recipes themselves an annoying break in the story. I understand to a degree why they are added, though personally I think it disjoints the otherwise perfect flow of the story and it would have perhaps been better without this addition.
The language within the book is rather self-contained which is refreshing. In many other stories of this kind, you may expect a number of choice words and phrases, though within these pages, the language is very well chosen and works really well for each part of the story.
One thing in which is very important to understand with Picoult’s books in general, is that she writes, very powerfully, about moral dilemmas in a very vivid and emotionally draining way (emotionally draining in a good way though!). Handle with Care is no different. The whole book explores a messy and emotional tangle of medical ethics versus personal morality which will hit the heartstrings of many readers as well as sting a nerve with some others. For those faced with similar situations, the power behind the story may be too sensitive a subject for them. Either way, though, the way that it is all written is extremely clever and takes into deep consideration both sides of a story without any prejudice or personal opinions seeping through. It really makes the reader question their own beliefs about the subject, and ask the question about what they would do in that situation. I certainly spent a few hours whilst reading this book, debating on what I truly believed was right as every side of the story touched the heart. I thought I had known what I would do at the beginning, though by the end I was not as sure of myself! Some sensitive, moral and medical questions include terminations, religion, medical choices of doctors and parents, disability of many kinds, love and friendship, truth and many more aspects which may be sensitive to some. With regards to the topical issues within the story, I feel that they are extremely well researched, though do not by any means read like a research paper. There is a distinct and perfect mix of fact and fiction and, although many medical words and phrases are used, they are dimmed down in comparison to many other stories such as this which I much prefer as who really wants to sit with a medical dictionary on their lap whilst reading a book?! Of course, there are a few moments in which went over my head slightly and I felt that I had to do some of my own research, yet these are few and far between and the research I did on these parts did not really disrupt my reading. Instead, I feel, my own research enhanced my ability to understand and enjoy the book.
One thing that I will mention is how long it took me to get into this book. I have so much praise for this story, yet it took me a couple of tries to really begin to fall into the pages. I even read a whole other book in between when I was right at the beginning! I am not sure whether this is due to the fact that you have to be in the right mind set to read a story like this and perhaps I was not the first time, or perhaps it was (as I found originally) a very slow start. Either way, on the second attempt, it only took me a couple of chapters to start enjoying the story and soon after this; I felt I could not put it down. It wasn’t until the last third of the book, though, that I consider myself to have become slightly addicted to it!
One thing which I find very important in a book is the ending. A story can be written perfectly, though if the ending is wrong, then it gives me a really terrible feel to the whole book, almost as though I feel my time was wasted reading it, even if I did enjoy the rest of the story.
So how does the ending of this book compare?
I have mixed feelings about the ending. On the whole, I loved it. I was compelled to reach the end, wanting to know how it all turned out and not being able to foresee what was going to happen. The ending was exciting, emotional, powerful and incredible all in one, and long after I put the book down for the final time, I kept thinking about the issues in the story, the characters, the storyline and everything else which was perfectly written within the pages.
So where is the mixed feelings?
The ending was so familiar in a lot of senses to the previous Picoult novel I have read and I felt slightly robbed of something new. Having only read these two books, I have no idea as to whether this is a normal ending for this author, or whether it covers only these two books, yet I just felt it was too similar to parts. Saying this, though, I also loved the ending with the twist in both storyline and style. It rounded the whole story off well, though it threw a whole bunch of other questions about morality and life into the midst which makes it a perfect bookclub book. Although a little frustrating, it was also perfectly matched to the rest of the book.
************************ FINAL WORDS ************************
After the false and slow start I had to the beginning of the book, I soon fell into the pages and found it both emotionally and profoundly moving. The reality of the situation is enhanced by the style and characters and the morality versus medical issues are written with sincere power and sincerity. The individual characters stories mixed with the relationships between one another as well as the story as a whole brings an unforgettable novel about the ‘fragility of life and the lengths we will go to protect it’. It is not surprising that this book is a number one best seller!
I managed to pick this up at a car boot sale for 50p which was an amazing bargain considering I will certainly be reading this again and again. The RRP is £7.99 and even at that price I would recommend this! If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult, this is certainly one to purchase, and if not – give it a try – you wont regret it though do bare in mind the emotional morality and issues involved within the story.