- Title: Handle With Care
- Text Type: Extended (novel)
- Author: Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult’s book Handle With Care revolves around the life of a five-year-old girl called Willow O’Keefe who was born with a genetic disability. The disease is non-hierarchy, a lottery where the unlucky winner claims Type III Osteogenesis Imperfecta, referred to as “OI” or “Brittle Bone Syndrome.” Willow’s parents, Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe, constantly struggle underneath the financial burden that Willow’s illness places on the family. Medical insurance, hospital visits, and extra help all essential but expensive factors that place distress on the family as they support Willow but also try and keep older sister Amelia happy.
Therefore, when Charlotte is faced with the option to sue her obstetrician for not picking up on the deficiency earlier during the pregnancy, she accepts it with open arms. However, the obstetrician is her best friend and the lawsuit is for wrongful birth, requiring Charlotte to tell the nation, as well as the court, that, if given the choice and having the knowledge, she would have terminated her pregnancy. This places further strain on the family’s relationship with one another as Charlotte and Sean have contrasting views on the lawsuit. Charlotte’s determination to go through with it, her standpoint being that it would pay off in the long run, combined with Sean’s horror at what they would have to say in court, his belief that Willow would feel unwanted, result in a separation. Amelia also buckles under the intense pressure put on her as an older sister placed in an impossible situation, torn between her mother, father, younger sister and best friend who happens to be the daughter of Charlotte’s obstetrician. She finds solace in cutting and making herself throw up. With both parents occupied with the lawsuit and giving Amelia little extra attention, she manages to hide her secret. Ironically, attention and reassurance were all that she craved.
Jodi Picoult manages to capture readers and truly places them within the story as every chapter is narrated from a different character’s point of view. Each character plays a different role in the story and all of them have strong views of the lawsuit, however, from varying points of perspective. This causes readers to have a fluctuation of feelings throughout the story. At one point we sympathise with Charlotte’s obstetrician and best friend, Piper. We feel hate towards Charlotte, her best friends for years, betrayed for money. Having no idea that it was to come. As she states in the book: “One week ago we had driven down to Target with the girls… We had spent seven hours together in close quarters, and not once had she managed to mention that she was in the process of suing me.”
However, the novel challenges readers thoughts, providing us with a constant question of how far I would go for the people I love and do, as Charlotte believes, “the outcome justifies the means?” Just as one reaches the conclusion that they could never picture themselves doing anything like Charlotte, they turn the page to the next chapter and read Charlotte’s narration:
” ‘I was on a website this morning, ‘ I argued, ‘and a girl with Type III broke her wrist trying to lift up a half-gallon on milk, Sean. How can you say that Willow’s not going to need some kind of special care or live-in help? And where’s the money going to come from?’ “
Suddenly, it is clear where Charlotte was coming from. This is relatable in the sense that my mother and father, who would do anything to protect my siblings and me, would also push for what they believed would benefit us. It is clear that Charlotte accepted her role as Willow’s “protector” and had learned to be “her voice.” She insisted that Willow only had the best medical professionals, regardless of whoever’s toes she stepped on in the progress, and she took her best friend to court, sacrificing years of friendship and destroying valuable relationships. Charlotte was Willow’s “voice” and alothough this is demonstarted a number of times, a significant example was when Willow was getting blood drawn. The nurse said that she would insert the needle on the count of three but after two she stuck Willow. After failing to get anything that time she attempted to try again but Charlotte stopped her.
” ‘No,” I interrupted, ‘Is there another nurse on the floor who can do this?’ ‘I’ve been putting in IVs for thirteen years -‘ ‘But not in my daughter.’ “
Charlotte was a mother who, like all great parents, understood that her first job was to be a mum, above being a best friend, a good wife, somebody who was liked or who society deemed as acceptable.
Through reading Handle With Care, I accessed a new outlook on life. I can now appreciate, through hearing Charlotte’s story, that being selfless can look selfish. The novel taught me that I can never judge before I knew both sides of the story and had pictured myself in each person’s shoes. Having every chapter told by a different character forces readers to do just this.
Handle with Care can be compared to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Both Macbeth and Charlotte went to extreme lengths to get what they wanted and in this sense, they are exactly the same. Charlotte was willing to lose everything for the best of her daughter; Macbeth was willing to lose everything to become King and make his wife happy. The two significant differences between these characters are that Charlotte was driven by her daughter’s welfare while Macbeth was driven by his wife’s personal dire ambitions, and Charlotte broke relationships whereas Macbeth literally killed people. Originally I assumed the fact that Charlotte was fighting for somebody else justified her actions however upon comparing texts I realised that Macbeth was fighting for his wife, and he was a tyrant. Now, I ultimately believe that the reality of Willow’s needs being less selfish than Lady Macbeth’s are why the means justified the outcome.
When Charlotte went to see Marin amidst her distress about the lawsuit, she reveals a vulnerable side, we are able to understand the guilt she felt about the life Willow was forced to live and why she was so determined to continue with the lawsuit.
“Charlotte’s eyes welled with tears. ‘I’m in it for Willow. I’m the one who brought her into this world, so it’s up to me to make sure that she suffers as little as possible. That doesn’t make me a monster.’ She pressed her fingers to the corner of her eyes. ‘Or does it?’ “
We can look at the text in order to find people who suffered from the case and only see Piper, or Willow, or even Amelia. However, I believe that Charlotte suffered the most losses and experienced the worse pain. Ultimately, Charlotte was willing to sacrifice her happiness for her daughter’s. Therefore, her continuing with the lawsuit demonstrated more selflessness than selfishness. I can liken this to my own life as my parents will do anything to ensure my personal wellbeing and provide me with the best materials in order for me to achieve, regardless of how it may reflect back on them.