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Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

As with all of her novels, Picoult manages in “Handle with Care” to present the reader with a moral dilemma so authentic and poignant that one is left wondering just what they would do if they were to find themselves in a similar situation.

Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe are the parents of Willow, a child who is bright, funny and – it turns out, chronically ill with “brittle bone” disease, a disorder that shows up in utero if the obstetrician knows enough to look for it. And therein lies the crux of the matter; Charlotte’s obstetrician is also her best friend, Piper.

By the time Willow is old enough to know what is happening, and the bills are becoming insurmountable, the O’Keefe’s are given some untenable choices. If they want to bring Willow up with the kinds of medical equipment that will make her life bearable, where will they get the money? It seems they might have to sue their doctor, a lawyer tells them. How can they bring themselves to do that?

With the deft hand that Picoult wields so ably, she tells this story from almost every major player’s perspective.

We learn of the turmoil Charlotte is in as she realizes how life will be for Willow if the money runs out, and she knows, no matter how much Sean works, it will never be enough to pay for a child with the needs of one with osteogenesis imperfecta.

Of course things are further complicated by Sean’s unwillingness to see the impossibility of their situation. In fact, their marriage becomes imperilled because of their differing views about the pending lawsuit.

Amelia, Willow’s older sister, tells a story by turns humorous and heart-breaking. As is the case in many families with a child who is seriously ill, Amelia is a lost soul – she has problems of her own, but doesn’t feel she can bring them to anyone with her sister so ill.

Of course both Piper, the doctor; and Sean, Willow’s father – offer different perspectives yet again as the story weaves in and around the many hospital visits Willow experiences – and the reader learns just what a devastating disorder this is, one that causes bones to break both in and out of the uterus, and from things as simple as turning over in bed.

With meticulous attention to detail, Picoult has done careful research and the reader is given great quantities of information but in an interesting format that never seems to intrude on the actual story.

An interesting addition to this particular book and one  that might not have worked with a lesser author but Picoult seems again, to have found a way to blend  into the book in a workable way, are the recipes that occur throughout.

Charlotte loves to bake and in the book, Picoult uses the intros to whatever Charlotte’s baking almost as an analogy to something that is going on in the story, before giving the actual recipe. It’s a lovely addition to a book rife with seriousness.

All in all, after sixteen novels, “Handle with Care” is one of Jodi Picoult’s finest efforts yet.

Handle with Care

By Jodi Picoult

Atria Books a Division of Simon & Schuster 2009

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