Handle with Care: A Novel

Handle with Care: A Novel

4.1 821
by Jodi Picoult

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When Willow is born with severe osteogenesis imperfecta, her parents are devastated—she will suffer hundreds of broken bones as she grows, a lifetime of pain. In this provocative story from the #1 New York Times bestselling author, “Picoult writes with unassuming brilliance” (Stephen King).

Every expectant parent will tell you that they

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When Willow is born with severe osteogenesis imperfecta, her parents are devastated—she will suffer hundreds of broken bones as she grows, a lifetime of pain. In this provocative story from the #1 New York Times bestselling author, “Picoult writes with unassuming brilliance” (Stephen King).

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, 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 had 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?

Emotionally riveting and profoundly moving, Handle with Care is an unforgettable novel about the fragility of life and the lengths we will go to protect it.

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Editorial Reviews

Perri Klass
It's well written, it's conscientiously researched and, most important, it presents a character who is a child instead of a disability personified…Handle With Care is a great read, with strong characters, an exciting lawsuit to pull you along and really good use of the medical context. Picoult does a terrific job of evoking [osteogenesis imperfecta] and its peculiarities—from the likelihood that parents might be accused of child abuse (because of fractures that don't quite "make sense") to the incessant push and pull of wanting a child to experience kindergarten friendships, Disney World and ice skating, while worrying constantly that another fragile bone will break.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Perennial bestseller Picoult (Change of Heart) delivers another engrossing family drama, spiced with her trademark blend of medicine, law and love. Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe's daughter, Willow, was born with brittle bone disease, a condition that requires Charlotte to act as full-time caregiver and has strained their emotional and financial limits. Willow's teenaged half-sister, Amelia, suffers as well, overshadowed by Willow's needs and lost in her own adolescent turmoil. When Charlotte decides to sue for wrongful birth in order to obtain a settlement to ensure Willow's future, the already strained family begins to implode. Not only is the defendant Charlotte's longtime friend, but the case requires Charlotte and Sean to claim that had they known of Willow's condition, they would have terminated the pregnancy, a statement that strikes at the core of their faith and family. Picoult individualizes the alternating voices of the narrators more believably than she has previously, and weaves in subplots to underscore the themes of hope, regret, identity and family, leading up to her signature closing twists. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Fans of popular author Picoult (My Sister's Keeper) won't be disappointed with her newest novel, which offers a glimpse into the life of a family whose daughter is born with a severe medical condition that could have been prevented, but at what cost? Sean and Charlotte O'Keefe's magical world is turned upside down when daughter Willow is born with brittle bone disease, a disease so severe that Charlotte is forced into the role of caretaker for Willow and emotionally abandoning older daughter Amelia. It's only when Charlotte decides to sue for wrongful death that the family begins to unravel-even if the reason for the lawsuit is for Willow's future. In order to win the lawsuit, Willow's parents have to claim that they would have aborted her if they had known about her condition, a claim that is so abhorrent that it literally fractures the family. Picoult's novels are like Russian nesting dolls, with each plot unveiling a subplot, leading to an ending that readers never see coming. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ11/1/08.]
—Marika Zemke

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Pocket Books
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Handle with Care

  • February 2007

    My whole life, I’ve never been on a vacation. I’ve never even left New Hampshire, unless you count the time that I went with you and Mom to Nebraska—and even you have to admit that sitting in a hospital room for three days watching really old Tom and Jerry cartoons while you got tested at Shriners was nothing like going to a beach or to the Grand Canyon. So you can imagine how excited I was when I found out that our family was planning to go to Disney World. We would go during February school vacation. We’d stay at a hotel that had a monorail running right through the middle of it.

    Mom began to make a list of the rides we would go on. It’s a Small World, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Peter Pan’s Flight.

    “Those are for babies,” I complained.

    “Those are the ones that are safe,” she said.

    “Space Mountain,” I suggested.

    “Pirates of the Caribbean,” she answered.

    “Great,” I yelled. “I get to go on the first vacation of my life, and I won’t even have any fun.” Then I stormed off to our room, and even though I wasn’t downstairs anymore, I could pretty much imagine what our parents were saying: There Amelia goes, being difficult again.

    It’s funny, when things like this happen (which is, like, always), Mom isn’t the one who tries to iron out the mess. She’s too busy making sure you’re all right, so the task falls to Dad. Ah, see, there’s something else that I’m jealous about: he’s your real dad, but he’s only my stepfather. I don’t know my real dad; he and my mother split up before I was even born, and she swears that his absence is the best gift he could ever have given me. But Sean adopted me, and he acts like he loves me just as much as he loves you—even though there’s this black, jagged splinter in my mind that constantly reminds me this couldn’t possibly be true.

    “Meel,” he said when he came into my room (he’s the only one I’d ever let call me that in a million years; it makes me think of the worms that get into flour and ruin it, but not when Dad says it), “I know you’re ready for the big rides. But we’re trying to make sure that Willow has a good time, too.”

    Because when Willow’s having a good time, we’re all having a good time. He didn’t have to say it, but I heard it all the same.

    “We just want to be a family on vacation,” he said.

    I hesitated. “The teacup ride,” I heard myself say.

    Dad said he’d go to bat for me, and even though Mom was dead set against it—what if you smacked up against the thick plaster wall of the teacup?—he convinced her that we could whirl around in circles with you wedged between us so that you wouldn’t get hurt. Then he grinned at me, so proud of himself for having negotiated this deal that I didn’t have the heart to tell him I really couldn’t care less about the teacup ride.

    The reason it had popped into my head was because, a few years ago, I’d seen a commercial for Disney World on TV. It showed Tinker Bell floating like a mosquito through the Magic Kingdom over the heads of the cheery visitors. There was one family that had two daughters, the same age as you and me, and they were on the Mad Hatter’s teacup ride. I couldn’t take my eyes off them—the older daughter even had brown hair, like I do; and if you squinted, the father looked a lot like Dad. The family seemed so happy it made my stomach hurt to watch it. I knew that the people on the commercial probably weren’t even a real family—that the mom and dad were probably two single actors, that they had most likely met their fake daughters that very morning as they arrived on set to shoot the commercial—but I wanted them to be one. I wanted to believe they were laughing, smiling, even as they were spinning out of control.

    • • •

    Pick ten strangers and stick them in a room, and ask them which one of us they feel sorrier for—you or me—and we all know who they’ll choose. It’s kind of hard to look past your casts; and the fact that you’re the size of a two-year-old, even though you’re five; and the funny twitch of your hips when you’re healthy enough to walk. I’m not saying that you’ve had it easy. It’s just that I have it worse, because every time I think my life sucks, I look at you and hate myself even more for thinking my life sucks in the first place.

    Here’s a snapshot of what it’s like to be me:

    Amelia, don’t jump on the bed, you’ll hurt Willow.

    Amelia, how many times have I told you not to leave your socks on the floor, because Willow could trip over them?

    Amelia, turn off the TV (although I’ve only watched a half hour, and you’ve been staring at it like a zombie for five hours straight).

    I know how selfish this makes me sound, but then again, knowing something’s true doesn’t keep you from feeling it. And I may only be twelve, but believe me, that’s long enough to know that our family isn’t the same as other families, and never will be. Case in point: What family packs a whole extra suitcase full of Ace bandages and waterproof casts, just in case? What mom spends days researching the hospitals in Orlando?

    It was the day we were leaving, and as Dad loaded up the car, you and I sat at the kitchen table, playing Rock Paper Scissors. “Shoot,” I said, and we both threw scissors. I should have known better; you always threw scissors. “Shoot,” I said again, and this time I threw rock. “Rock breaks scissors,” I said, bumping my fist on top of your hand.

    “Careful,” Mom said, even though she was facing in the opposite direction.

    “I win.”

    “You always win.”

    I laughed at you. “That’s because you always throw scissors.”

    “Leonardo da Vinci invented the scissors,” you said. You were, in general, full of information no one else knew or cared about, because you read all the time, or surfed the Net, or listened to shows on the History Channel that put me to sleep. It freaked people out, to come across a five-year-old who knew that toilets flush in the key of E-flat or that the oldest word in the English language is town, but Mom said that lots of kids with OI were early readers with advanced verbal skills. I figured it was like a muscle: your brain got used more than the rest of your body, which was always breaking down; no wonder you sounded like a little Einstein.

    “Do I have everything?” Mom asked, but she was talking to herself. For the bazillionth time she ran through a checklist. “The letter,” she said, and then she turned to me. “Amelia, we need the doctor’s note.”

    It was a letter from Dr. Rosenblad, saying the obvious: that you had OI, that you were treated by him at Children’s Hospital—in case of emergency, which was actually pretty amusing since your breaks were one emergency after another. It was in the glove compartment of the van, next to the registration and the owner’s manual from Toyota, plus a torn map of Massachusetts, a Jiffy Lube receipt, and a piece of gum that had lost its wrapper and grown furry. I’d done the inventory once when my mother was paying for gas.

    “If it’s in the van, why can’t you just get it when we drive to the airport?”

    “Because I’ll forget,” Mom said as Dad walked in.

    “We’re locked and loaded,” he said. “What do you say, Willow? Should we go visit Mickey?”

    You gave him a huge grin, as if Mickey Mouse was real and not just some teenage girl wearing a big plastic head for her summer job. “Mickey Mouse’s birthday is November eighteenth,” you announced as he helped you crawl down from the chair. “Amelia beat me at Rock Paper Scissors.”

    “That’s because you always throw scissors,” Dad said.

    Mom frowned over her list one last time. “Sean, did you pack the Motrin?”

    “Two bottles.”

    “And the camera?”

    “Shoot, I took it out and left it on the dresser upstairs—” He turned to me. “Sweetie, can you grab it while I put Willow in the car?”

    I nodded and ran upstairs. When I came down, camera in hand, Mom was standing alone in the kitchen turning in a slow circle, as if she didn’t know what to do without Willow by her side. She shut off the lights and locked the front door, and I bounded over to the van. I handed the camera to Dad and buckled myself in beside your car seat, and let myself admit that, as dorky as it was to be twelve years old and excited about Disney World, I was. I was thinking about sunshine and Disney songs and monorails, and not at all about the letter from Dr. Rosenblad.

    Which means that everything that happened was my fault.

    • • •

    We didn’t even make it to the stupid teacups. By the time our flight landed and we got to the hotel, it was late afternoon. We drove to the theme park and had just walked onto Main Street, U.S.A.—Cinderella’s Castle in full view—when the perfect storm hit. You said you were hungry, and we turned into an old-time ice-cream parlor. Dad stood in line holding your hand while Mom brought napkins over to the table where I was sitting. “Look,” I said, pointing out Goofy pumping the hand of a screaming toddler. At exactly the same moment that Mom let one napkin flutter to the ground and Dad let go of your hand to take out his wallet, you hurried to the window to see what I wanted to show you, and you slipped on the tiny paper square.

    We all watched it in slow motion, the way your legs simply gave out from underneath you, so that you sat down hard on your bottom. You looked up at us, and the whites of your eyes flashed blue, the way they always do when you break.

    It was almost like the people at Disney World had been expecting this to happen. No sooner had Mom told the man scooping ice cream that you’d broken your leg than two men from their medical facility came with a stretcher. With Mom giving orders, the way she always does around doctors, they managed to get you onto it. You weren’t crying, but then, you hardly ever did when you broke something. Once, I had fractured my pinkie playing tetherball at school and I couldn’t stop freaking out when it turned bright red and blew up like a balloon, but you didn’t even cry the time you broke your arm right through the skin.

    “Doesn’t it hurt?” I whispered, as they lifted up the stretcher so that it suddenly grew wheels.

    You were biting your lower lip, and you nodded.

    There was an ambulance waiting for us when we got to the Disney World gate. I took one last look at Main Street, U.S.A., at the top of the metal cone that housed Space Mountain, at the kids who were running in instead of going out, and then I crawled into the car that someone had arranged so Dad and I could follow you and Mom to the hospital.

    It was weird, going to an emergency room that wasn’t our usual one. Everyone at our local hospital knew you, and the doctors all listened to what Mom told them. Here, though, nobody was paying any attention to her. They said this could be not one but two femur fractures, and that might mean internal bleeding. Mom went into the examination room with you for the X-ray, which left Dad and me sitting on green plastic chairs in a waiting room. “I’m sorry, Meel,” he said, and I just shrugged. “Maybe it’ll be an easy one, and we can go back to the park tomorrow.” There had been a man in a black suit at Disney World who told my father that we would be comped, whatever that meant, if we wanted to return another day.

    It was Saturday night, and the people coming into the emergency room were much more interesting than the TV program that was playing. There were two kids who looked like they were old enough to be in college, both bleeding from the same spot on their foreheads and laughing every time they looked at each other. There was an old man wearing sequined pants and holding the right side of his stomach, and a girl who spoke only Spanish and was carrying screaming twin babies.

    Suddenly, Mom burst out of the double doors to the right, with a nurse running after her and another woman in a skinny pin-striped skirt and red high heels. “The letter,” she cried. “Sean, what did you do with it?”

    “What letter?” Dad asked, but I already knew what she was talking about, and just like that, I thought I might throw up.

    “Mrs. O’Keefe,” the woman said, “please. Let’s do this somewhere more private.”

    She touched Mom’s arm, and—well, the only way I can really describe it is that Mom just folded in half. We were led to a room with a tattered red couch and a little oval table and fake flowers in a vase. There was a picture on the wall of two pandas, and I stared at it while the woman in the skinny skirt—she said her name was Donna Roman, and she was from the Department of Children and Families—talked to our parents. “Dr. Rice contacted us because he has some concerns about the injuries to Willow,” she said. “Bowing in her arm and X-rays indicate that this wasn’t her first break?”

    “Willow’s got osteogenesis imperfecta,” Dad said.

    “I already told her,” Mom said. “She didn’t listen.”

    “Without a physician’s statement, we have to look into this further. It’s just protocol, to protect children—”

    “I’d like to protect my child,” Mom said, her voice sharp as a razor. “I’d like you to let me get back in there so I can do just that.”

    “Dr. Rice is an expert—”

    “If he was an expert, then he’d know I was telling the truth,” Mom shot back.

    “From what I understand, Dr. Rice is trying to reach your daughter’s physician,” Donna Roman said. “But since it’s Saturday night, he’s having trouble making contact. So in the meantime, I’d like to get you to sign releases that will allow us to do a full examination on Willow—a full bone scan and neurological exam—and in the meantime, we can talk a little bit.”

    “The last thing Willow needs is more testing—“Mom said.

    “Look, Ms. Roman,” Dad interrupted. “I’m a police officer. You can’t really believe I’d lie to you?”

    “I’ve already spoken to your wife, Mr. O’Keefe, and I’m going to want to speak to you, too . . . but first I’d like to talk to Willow’s sister.”

    My mouth opened and closed, but nothing came out of it. Mom was staring at me as if she were trying to do ESP, and I looked down at the floor until I saw those red high heels stop in front of me. “You must be Amelia,” she said, and I nodded. “Why don’t we take a walk?”

    As we left, a police officer who looked like Dad did when he went to work stepped into the doorway. “Split them up,” Donna Roman said, and he nodded. Then she took me to the candy machine at the far end of the hallway. “What would you like? Me, I’m a chocolate fiend, but maybe you’re more of a potato chip girl?”

    She was so much nicer to me when my parents weren’t sitting there—I immediately pointed to a Snickers bar, figuring that I’d better take advantage of this while I could. “I guess this isn’t quite what you’d hoped your vacation would be?” she said, and I shook my head. “Has this happened to Willow before?”

    “Yeah. She breaks bones a lot.”


    For someone who was supposed to be smart, this woman sure didn’t seem it. How do anyone’s bones break? “She falls down, I guess. Or gets hit by something.”

    “She gets hit by something?” Donna Roman repeated. “Or do you mean someone?”

    There had been one time in nursery school when a kid had run into you on the playground. You were pretty gifted at ducking and weaving, but that day, you hadn’t been fast enough. “Well,” I said, “sometimes that happens, too.”

    “Who was with Willow when she got hurt this time, Amelia?”

    I thought back to the ice-cream counter, to Dad, holding your hand. “My father.”

    Her mouth flattened. She fed coins into another machine, and out popped a bottled water. She twisted the cap. I wanted her to offer it to me, but I was too embarrassed to ask.

    “Was he upset?”

    I thought of my father’s face as we sped off toward the hospital following the ambulance. Of his fists, balanced on his thighs as we waited for word about Willow’s latest break. “Yeah—really upset.”

    “Do you think he did this because he was angry at Willow?”

    “Did what?”

    Donna Roman knelt down so that she was staring me in the eye. “Amelia,” she said, “you can tell me what really happened. I’ll make sure he doesn’t hurt you.”

    Suddenly, I realized what she thought I’d meant. “My dad wasn’t mad at Willow,” I said. “He didn’t hit her. It was an accident!”

    “Accidents like that don’t have to happen.”

    “No—you don’t understand—it’s because of Willow—”

    “Nothing kids do justifies abuse,” Donna Roman muttered under her breath, but I could hear her loud and clear. By now she was walking back toward the room where my parents were, and even though I was yelling, trying to get her to hear me, she wasn’t listening. “Mr. and Mrs. O’Keefe,” she said, “we’re putting your children into protective custody.”

    “Why don’t we just go down to the station to talk?” the officer was saying to Dad.

    Mom threw her arms around me. “Protective custody? What does that mean?”

    With a firm hand—and the help of the police officer—Donna Roman tried to peel her away from me. “We’re just keeping the children safe until we can get this all cleared up. Willow will be here overnight.” She started to steer me out of the room, but I grabbed at the doorframe.

    “Amelia?” my mother said, frantic. “What did you say?”

    “I tried to tell her the truth!”

    “Where are you taking my daughter?”

    “Mom!” I shrieked, and I reached for her.

    “Come on, sweetheart,” Donna Roman said, and she pulled at my hands until I had to let go, until I was being dragged out of the hospital kicking and screaming. I did this for five minutes, until I went totally numb. Until I understood why you didn’t cry, even though it hurt: there are kinds of pain you couldn’t speak out loud.

    • • •

    I’d seen and heard the words foster home before, in books that I read and television programs I watched. I figured that they were for orphans and inner-city kids, kids whose parents were drug dealers—not girls like me who lived in nice houses and got plenty of Christmas presents and never went to sleep hungry. As it turned out, though, Mrs. Ward, who ran this temporary foster home, could have been an ordinary mom. I guess she had been one, judging from the photos that plastered every surface like wallpaper. She met us at the door wearing a red bathrobe and slippers that looked like pink pigs. “You must be Amelia,” she said, and she opened the door a little wider.

    I was expecting a posse of kids, but it turned out that I was the only one staying with Mrs. Ward. She took me into the kitchen, which smelled like dishwashing detergent and boiled noodles. She set a glass of milk and a stack of Oreo cookies in front of me. “You’re probably starving,” she said, and even though I was, I shook my head. I didn’t want to take anything from her; it felt like giving in.

    My bedroom had a dresser, a small bed, and a comforter with cherries printed all over it. There was a television and a remote. My parents would never let me have a television in my room; my mother said it was the Root of All Evil. I told Mrs. Ward that, and she laughed. “Maybe so,” she said, “but then again, sometimes The Simpsons are the best medicine.” She opened a drawer and took out a clean towel and a nightgown that was a couple of sizes too big. I wondered where it had come from. I wondered how long the last girl who’d worn it had slept in this bed.

    “I’m right down the hall if you need me,” Mrs. Ward said. “Is there anything else I can get you?”

    My mother.

    My father.



    “How long,” I managed, the first words I had said out loud in this house, “do I have to be here?”

    Mrs. Ward smiled sadly. “I can’t say, Amelia.”

    “Are my parents . . . are they in a foster home, too?”

    She hesitated. “Something like that.”

    “I want to see Willow.”

    “First thing tomorrow,” Mrs. Ward said. “We’ll go up to the hospital. How’s that?”

    I nodded. I wanted to believe her, so bad. With this promise tucked into my arms like my stuffed moose at home, I could sleep through the night. I could convince myself that everything was bound to get better.

    I lay down, and tried to remember the useless bits of information you’d rattle off before we went to sleep, when I was always telling you to just shut up already: Frogs have to close their eyes to swallow. One pencil can draw a line thirty-five miles long. Cleveland, spelled backward, is DNA level C.

    I was starting to see why you carried those stupid facts like other kids dragged around security blankets—if I repeated them over and over, it almost made me feel better. I just wasn’t sure if that was because it helped to know something, when the rest of my life seemed to be a big question mark, or because it reminded me of you.

    I was still hungry, or empty, I couldn’t tell which. After Mrs. Ward had gone to her own bedroom, I tiptoed out of bed. I turned the light on in the hallway and went down to the kitchen. There, I opened up the refrigerator and let the light and cold fall over my bare feet. I stared at lunch meat, sealed into plastic packages; at a jumble of apples and peaches in a bin; at cartons of orange juice and milk lined up like soldiers. When I thought I heard a creak upstairs, I grabbed whatever I could: a loaf of bread, a Tupperware of cooked spaghetti, a handful of those Oreos. I ran back to my room and closed the door, spread my treasure out on the sheets in front of me.

    At first, it was just the Oreos. But then my stomach rumbled and I ate all the spaghetti—with my fingers, because I had no fork. I had a piece of bread and another and then another, and before I knew it only the plastic wrapper was left. What is wrong with me? I thought, catching my reflection in the mirror. Who eats a whole loaf of bread? The outside of me was disgusting enough—boring brown hair that frizzed with crummy weather, eyes too far apart, that crooked front tooth, enough fat to muffin-top my jeans—but the inside of me was even worse. I pictured it as a big black hole, like the kind we learned about in science last year, that sucks everything into its center. A vacuum of nothingness, my teacher had called it.

    Everything that had ever been good and kind in me, everything people imagined me to be, had been poisoned by the part of me that had wished, in the darkest crack of the night, that I could have a different family. The real me was a disgusting person who imagined a life where you had never been born. The real me had watched you being loaded into an ambulance and had let myself wish, for a half a second, that I could stay behind at Disney World. The real me was a bottomless soul who could eat a whole loaf of bread in ten minutes and still have room for more.

    I hated myself.

    I could not tell you what made me go into the bathroom that was attached to my room—wallpaper spotted with pink roses, shaped soaps curled in dishes next to the sink—and stick my finger down my throat. Maybe it was because I could feel the toxic stuff seeping into my bloodstream, and I wanted it out. Maybe it was punishment. Maybe it was because I wanted to control one part of me that had been uncontrollable, so the rest of me would fall into line. Rats can’t throw up, you’d told me once; it popped into my head now. With one hand holding up my hair, I vomited into the toilet until I was flushed and sweating and empty and relieved to learn that, yes, I could do this one thing right, even if it made me feel worse than I had before. With my stomach cinching and bile bitter on the back of my tongue, I felt horrible—but this time there was a physical reason I could point to.

    Weak and wobbly, I stumbled back to my borrowed bed and reached for the television remote. My eyes felt like sandpaper and my throat ached, but I could not fall asleep. Instead I flipped through the cable channels, through home decorating shows and cartoons and late-night talk shows and Iron Chef cooking contests. It was on Nick at Nite, twenty-two minutes into The Dick Van Dyke Show, that the old Disney World commercial came on—like a joke, a tease, a warning. It felt like a punch in the gut: there was Tinker Bell, there were the happy people; there was the family that could have been us on the teacup ride.

    What if my parents never came back?

    What if you didn’t get better?

    What if I had to stay here forever?

    When I started to sob, I stuffed the corner of the pillow deep into my mouth so Mrs. Ward wouldn’t hear. I hit the mute button on the television remote, and I watched the family at Disney World going round in circles.

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  • Meet the Author

    Jodi Picoult received an AB in creative writing from Princeton and a master’s degree in education from Harvard. The recipient of the 2003 New England Book Award for her entire body of work, she is the author of twenty-one novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers House Rules, Handle With Care, Change of Heart, and My Sister’s Keeper, for which she received the American Library Association’s Margaret Alexander Edwards Award. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Visit her website at JodiPicoult.com.

    Brief Biography

    Hanover, New Hampshire
    Date of Birth:
    May 19, 1966
    Place of Birth:
    Nesconset, Long Island, NY
    A.B. in Creative Writing, Princeton University; M.A. in Education, Harvard University

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    Handle with Care 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 822 reviews.
    TheLitChick More than 1 year ago
    As a person with multiple disabilities--a "disabled person"--I have so much more respect for authors who tell it like it is, rather than glossing over the realities. I *am* dependant on my mother: at 24, I live in her house, paying no rent and contributing nothing financially to the household, and that situation is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Even if I eventually get "out on my own" it'll likely be on her dollar; full independence is not something I expect ever to have. I'm also a burden to her, financially, of course, but also emotionally: I get hospitalized at least once a year--which is hard for her both because she's scared for me, and because she nearly kills herself trying to be there for me while working and taking care of her elderly mother--and also, I know that she hurts every time there's something I want to do that I can't. Whether it's going to school, or working, or even going out with friends, when I fail, it hurts my mom like I don't think anything else can. I know this. A person, even a child, knows these things, even if no one uses specific words to describe them. That's why I applaud Ms. Picoult for writing stories that take place in the real world, in my real world. I'm sick of books where, at the end, the new treatment is found, or the child miraculously recovers. I'm sure it happens sometimes, and that's great, but it doesn't ring true to me. I want to read about people I can relate to. Would my mother have aborted me if she'd know what I was going to be like? I don't know. But I do know that she hurts for me every day, and that if someone told her she'd give birth to a child who suffered as I do, she would have thought long and hard about her options. That doesn't mean she doesn't love me. It means she loves me enough to hate how much I hurt. The idea of a mother, going to court to get money to help her child...my mom's not rich. And it is a huge struggle for her to pay for my care. If there was someone who could have told her I'd suffer this way 25 years ago...this book is real. It's about real people, real questions, and real struggles. You don't have to like it. But don't tell me what disabled people think, or feel, and don't tell me that Ms. Picoult's book, rather than your narrow-minded opinions, hurt me. By the way: for someone so concerned with what "disabled people" think and feel: we mostly stopped calling ourselves that years ago. Just for your information.
    Lennonthegreat More than 1 year ago
    I agree with everyone else. The lady that wants the book banned is living in some sort of 3rd dimension. Jodi Picoult has and probably always will, write about controversial subjects. What sets her apart from others is that she does so with such brilliance and subtlety. She is one of the finest writers of our time. If someone doesn't like a book, what they need to do is, close it and pick up another that they don't "disagree" with. It is narrow mindedness like this that stunts emotional and intelligent growth.
    bookchick88 More than 1 year ago
    Are you serious? My brother has autism and mental retardation, and quite honestly, I find this book to hit close to home, in a good way. Because when you really think about it, I would give anything for my brother to live a normal, happy, full health life, but in no way does Ms. Picoult's writing influence how I feel about him. I know you are just stating your opinion, but remember, hers are just opinions as well. Just because she comes out with this book does not mean it will influence how other people feel about their child. And I find your use of the world "disabled" insulting. My brother is not disabled. He does the same things you and I do everyday, even with all the problems he has. Disabled means something is stopping you. Nothing is stopping my brother from being perfectly happy. I find Jodi Picoult an amazing author knowing exactly how to tug at the heart strings, and how to make tears of joy, release, and pain flow from our hearts through our eyes. Her work is astonishing. I've read quite a few of her books, and they're all controversal, but in a good way. These sorts of things DO happen in today's world, after all.
    coachgoody More than 1 year ago
    The purpose of literature is to make people think and to debate ideas. If this novel inspires people to have opinions and to voice them, then Piccoult has done her job.
    jille More than 1 year ago
    As a parent of a child with special needs this book touched my heart. My doctor knew there was something wrong with my baby in utero and chose not to tell me. He knew me well and because I had trouble conceiving knew I would want to carry to term no matter what. However I probably should have been told. This story does an amazing job at making you see both sides no-matter-what side you agree with. I would hope that in real life friends would have the ability to discuss the issues before needing them to be settled in a court of law. But then we wouldn't have Jodi's books.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    You say that you don't like Ms. Picoult's style of writing. Why do you keep reading her books, then? If you don't like the book, that's fine, but banning it is a bit extreme. It is fiction, and I seriously doubt that any intelligent reader will think they should change their views based on a fictional situation. Do you believe that there are no families with children with special needs who ever resent that child, or consider them a burden?
    harstan More than 1 year ago
    In 2002 in New Hampshire, happily married Charlotte and Sean O¿Keefe look forward to their second child who they pray will be as healthy as their daughter Amelia. At the hospital during a nasty Nor¿easter, Charlotte gives birth, but knows something is wrong when she hears a pop and the stunned nurse asks if she did that. As Sean says she is perfect, Dr. Gianna Del Sol and the OR nurse tell Charlotte not to lift the newborn¿s arm. Willow is born with Type III Osteogenesis imperfecta; brittle bone disease that will mean hundreds of broken bones over the years from sneezes, falls and sudden movement.

    Over the next few years, Charlotte, having given up her vocation as a chef, becomes Willow¿s caretaker. The costs of raising her are exorbitant and the impact emotionally on each family member is straining relationships; especially feeling lost is adolescent Amelia who has never been on a vacation and the only trip outside the state was to a special hospital in Nebraska for her younger half-sister¿s care. Worried about Willow after she is gone, Charlotte sues her best friend Piper who was her initial obstetrician and never said anything about an unhealthy fetus. Charlotte¿s actions divide the O¿Keefe family further as questions of abortion are raised at court.

    The key to this insightful family drama is each of the prime O¿Keefe players have differing personalities and react to situations in varying manners. The story line is obviously driven by the cast especially by Willow who knows she is loved by the sacrifices made for her. Fans will see the impact on her parents and her sister as all focus is on her. As always Jodi Picoult provides a poignant tale that discerningly raises awareness of the impact an ailing dependent has on others in her circle.

    Harriet Klausner
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Cheating: when you use Ragu from a jar because you're too dilatory or you have too little time to make something fresh. This is how I felt about Jodi Picoult's latest book, Handle With Care. Instead of getting the extraordinary, thought provoking, family drama I was hoping for, I just got a carbon copy of My Sister's Keeper. Same tigress of a mother, fighting for the sick kid. Dad's a cop not a firefighter, wow that's original. The ignored teen sibling is a klepto, bulimic, cutter instead of a pyromaniac. Even the lawyers are parallel. And if you have to use a different font to differentiate your first person points of view it might be a sign that you're voices are all too similar. As for the ending, that was just too cheap for words. What worked in My Sister's Keeper, just felt like the worst kind of betrayal in this book. And how about a little research? Or better yet, where were the editors. Did anyone at Simon and Schuster even read this before putting it out there for us to spend 30.00 bucks on? How can you be so renowned for your research and then write a book about a child with brittle bones and not know that the tibia and fibula are in the lower leg, not the lower arm? I'll even let the ignorance of orangutan anatomy go, but come on, even kindergarteners know that orangutan's don't have tails. Maybe she should take a little more time with her next book and come up with something more original. I know she has it in her.
    perfect_sorrow More than 1 year ago
    When I heard a book that had a character with OI was coming out, I was excited. I have OI, and it's not a disease that many people have heard of, so I looked forward to reading it. It wasn't very many pages in when I started seriously considering taking the book outside and burning it though. I have the same type of OI and the gloom and doom description of the disorder is very offensive. The central plot is that the character with OI will never be able to live independently, will always need a caretaker, and thus, her mother was making a wrongful birth lawsuit to pay for her care. While I have broken a lot of bones, endured a lot of surgeries, and rely on a wheelchair, I and all the people I know with OI live independent lives. I went away to school (and am now working on my second Masters Degree), drive my ownself, and have a job. I may have to be careful to avoid breaking bones, but I live a normal life. Jodi Picoult missed the boat on this one. Yeah, it's a painful disorder, but people do live full and productive lives with it. It's such a shame that one of the few books that even mention OI twisted it into a disorder in which people who have it are hopelessly crippled and totally dependent on others. Jodi Picoult really missed an opportunity here: she could've written about a person with OI who overcame extreme obstacles to be a productive member of society. Instead, she wrote a pathetic sob story with a cop-out ending. I will not buy another book by Jodi Picoult...I liked My Sister's Keeper, but after reading this piece of crap, I'll spend my money on another author.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Handle With Care is the SADDEST book I have possibly ever read! There is nothing redeeming about any of the characters and and the usual Jodi Piccout little surprise at the end which i was waiting for was just plain tragic. The mother never learned anything and lives were destroyed. Up to the very ending with the check! - What a complete waste! I was so disappointed and saddened that this book haunts me, and not in a good way. I can't even recommend it to my friends because it is sooo sad and there are NO redeeming factors at all.I've read quite a few of Ms. Piccoults books and usually Really like them. Unfortunately, not this time.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    As others have said before, this story line is almost exactly like Picoult's other novel, My Sister's Keeper, except Handle With Care isn't nearly as good. My Sister's Keeper was the first Picoult book I read. I couldn't put it down and I cried at the ending. Nothing else Picoult has written--other than Nineteen Minutes--has been nearly as good as MSK. Handle With Care was entirely too predictable and I often found myself rolling my eyes at some of the pedantic details and descriptions of the characters. I would not recommend this book--it was a big disappointment.
    NOTShakesphere More than 1 year ago
    "Me thinks the lady (substitue anonymous) doth protest too much". Maybe the book hit too close to home for them???
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I've read all of the author's books to date and have recommended her to other avid readers; however, even though the topic was enlightening and heart rendering, the storyline, especially the last few pages, was unrealistic and frustrating at best. Jodi was headed toward a happy ending, then abruptly decided to leave her readers heartbroken. It was so unreal I slammed the book shut in disgust.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I'm glad I read this book. For so long i was a fan, until "My Sister's Keeper" and the gut wrenching ending. Although well written, marvelous Picoult prose, the ending ruins the entire book. Do your self a favor, don't buy it - you won't like it.
    Sewcrazy427 More than 1 year ago
    I liked most of the book however, my brother also had OI Type III and I know that there were many things that Willow did that were impossible for an OI child to do. It is not unusual for a mother of an OI child to question sometimes if they should have made a different choice like Willow's mom did but I didn't like the way she continued to allow the law suit to distroy her family. I was very upset about the ending and thought it was totally unnecessary to the story.
    Marilyn1946 More than 1 year ago
    I had not read this author before and I am now on her third book, each and every one that is so awe inspiring and heart wrenching. She has taught me so much about life and tragedy. Keep up the excellent writing.
    luv2readmo More than 1 year ago
    I love Jodi's books, and this one did not disappoint. It was very informative about OI and she explored the difficulties that families encounter when there are disabilities involved. It was a sad story, which I was affected by as a mother for quite a while after finishing the book.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    It was going good. Knowing I was reading a J Picoult book I was totally prepared for a kid to die....at any second. Then we're nearly at the end and all is good. Yay! Wait. No. No way. That ending was dumb and completely unnecessary. I would recommend you skip this one. Or not. Pretty par for the course if you know this author.
    nursekara More than 1 year ago
    I am a huge fan of Jodi Piccoult! However I really disliked this book. It was so long and boring. I am a nurse and I saw many inaccuracies related to the medical aspect of the book. Some of the story line seemed over the top dramatic and parts of the book could have been left out. This book is not as good as her others like "My Sister's Keeper" or "Salem Falls" I am still a Piccoult fan!
    stopper19 More than 1 year ago
    Jodi Picoult is one of my favortie authors and this is my favorite book that she has written. The idea for this book was very original and I could not put the book down. All throughout the book I grew this sadness for Willow who has OI. She was suffering day to day with her sickness and she would never be able to live a normal life without pain. At first I questioned what her mother was doing but then I realized that what she was doing was only out of love and it shows at the end. Reading this book really puts you into the shoes of people dealing with OI. You can only read to believe.
    Constant_ReaderBG More than 1 year ago
    I, like so many reviewers, have read all of Jodi Picoult's books and have always looked forward to the next one. Not so anymore. This book is almost a copy of my Sisters Keeper, only not nearly as good. There were places in this book that were so sappy I was actually rolling my eyes. This is not the writing style and dialog that I have come to expect from Jodi. It actually seemed more like Danielle Steele. I was also extremely disappointed with the ending. Sorry to say, but this is my last Jodi Picoult book.
    SprinklesTheClown More than 1 year ago
    Any fan of Jodi Picoult knows that she loves to write shocker endings. Her latest novel doesn't disappoint. All the time I was reading this book I thought it was ok. However when I read the last chapter it made me hate the entire book. It was as if Picoult only added in the last chapter because she knew her fans were expecting a shocker ending. I really wish I hadn't wasted my time reading this book. Rather I wish I would have read one of Picoult's other novels that I haven't read yet.
    Crabella More than 1 year ago
    Since no one thinks exactly the same it isn't really fair to label this book as bad simply because someone got offended at some of the terminology. People need to remember that novels are FICTIONAL and the author has to write as if the character were thinking these things. This doesn't necessarily mean that the author believes what the main character believes/feels. It's similar to how audiences rip apart an actor because of the character they represent.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I was very disappointed by this book.  The ending was particularly disappointing and I felt like Piccoult had rushed to close with a dramatic ending.  
    HersheyKiss More than 1 year ago
    Another Jodi Picoult book I enjoyed. My favorite is still "My Sister's Keeper", but this book didn't disappoint. Although I disagreed with most of the mother's decisions in this book, I felt it taught an invaluable lesson at the end. Worth reading.