Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult
"You don't have to say I love you to say I love you," you said with a shrug. "All you have to do is say my name and I know."
When I looked down at you, I was struck by how much of myself I could see in the shape of your eyes, in the light of your smile. "Say Cassidy," you instructed.
"Ursula," I parroted.
"Now....," and you pointed to your own chest.
"Can't you hear it?" you said. " When you love someone, you say their name different. Like it's safe inside your mouth."
Jodi Picoult books are basically Lifetime movies in book form. This is why I love them. I finished Handle With Care in about two days - a record surpassed only by my speed-reading of the Twilight series last year. Handle With Care was better than the last two Picoult books I read, Change of Heart (about miracles and the death penalty and forgiveness) and The Pact (about growing up and suicide).
The book starts with the birth of Willow, a little girl with osteogenesis imperfecta Type III, OI for short, also known as "brittle bone" disease. By the time Willow is five, her age when the main plot is set, she has had over fifty broken bones. Willow presented in utero with the disease, but it wasn't discovered in her initial routine ultrasound. She's brilliant and loves the book To Kill A Mockingbird and trivia. She's been in and out of the hospital her entire life. Willow breaks bones by falling down, but also by sneezing, or being bumped, or by shifting in her sleep. Her hospital care is expensive, and Willow's parents Sean and Charlotte are broke.
An attorney tells Charlotte about a way to secure Willow's financial future: file a wrongful birth malpractice lawsuit against the OB-GYN that supervised Charlotte's initial pregnancy care, before anyone knew that Willow was sick. That doctor, Piper, is also Charlotte's best friend. In order to win a wrongful birth lawsuit, Charlotte has to convince a jury that Piper failed to provide the standard of care, because she failed to notice the signs of OI on an initial ultrasound. In this type of lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that had she known earlier about her child's illness or deformity, she would have terminated the pregnancy. Charlotte loves her daughter so much that she is willing to stand up in front of a jury and tell them that she wished Willow had never been born, in order to secure her financial future. In the process, Charlotte destroys her relationship with Piper, nearly ends her marriage, and ignores her bulimic/cutting older daughter's increasingly self-destructive behavior.
But she wins! She wins $8 million dollars for Willow! And everybody sees in the end that Charlotte really did love her daughter, even though she said Willow would be better off having never existed. Everything is super happy for one chapter (well except for Piper, whom we never hear from again) and then Willow falls into the frozen skating pond and drowns in a freak winter accident. Wow. What a Jodi Picoult ending.
So, this book was great. Kept me reading right up to the last page, when Willow dies in a grotesque moment of self-awareness, thinking "This time I wasn't the one who broke..." But really I should have expected this ending after reading My Sister's Keeper, which did NOT end like the movie (movie: Kate, the sister with cancer, dies and everyone is sad. book: her sister Anna dies in a freak car accident on the way to the hospital to say goodbye to Kate. Kate gets Anna's organs and lives happily ever after.) But really. I'm starting to think that Jodi Picoult really doesn't like her characters very much. When I read My Sister's Keeper, I thought she seemed to be punishing the mom for ignoring Anna in favor of her sick child by killing off Anna. And in this book, I can't help but feel like she's punishing Charlotte for getting on the witness stand and saying she would have aborted Willow (which is a lie, and she gets called on it by the defense, but wins anyway), by having Willow die a horrible non-OI related death just months after the trial concludes. I don't know how I feel about this whole punish-the-long-suffering-mother thing but the books are good and quick reads so I'll probably keep reading them.
**It's also been a while since I last posted because I spent a week or two re-reading the whole Twilight series. Its hard to stop at just one. I'm not going to include them on my list because they are rereads. Unless I don't get to fifty by Christmas. Then I'll go back and blog/add them retroactively.