Tag Archives: Jodi Picoult

Book Review: Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

Last June, I got a Bookshare membership after delaying it for years. The proof of disability form had literally been sitting in my drawer since like 2010. Granted, back then people who weren’t U.S. residents or citizens had only very limited access to books, so it was hardly worth it. Since the Marrakesh Treaty though, international distribution of books for the purposes of access for visually impaired people is much easier. Don’t ask me about the technicalities. I’m just happy that most books are now available to me.

I read My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult in like 2005, when I briefly used the UK’s National Library for the Blind. I was no longer able to use their services after some books were lost on the way back. Yes, they at least used to distribute Braille books to international members only. Anyway, since reading My Sister’s Keeper, I badly wanted to read more by Picoult. Partiuclarly, I wanted to read Handle With Care from the moment it came out. Now, with my Bookshare membership, I got a chance to read it. Because I started reading many other books too, I didn’t finish Handle With Care till yesterday. Here is my review of it. It contains spoilers!

Synopsis

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. 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?

Review

The book, like My Sister’s Keeper is written from every main character’s viewpoint alternatingly except for Willow’s. Throughout the book, the main characters tell the story as if addressed to Willow. In other words, she is referred to as “you” all the time. I like this. Even though Willow doesn’t get a voice till the near end of the book, the other main charactes do give the reader a great insight into her character.

All main characters are very well-formed. Because of this, a lot of other stories are interwoven with the main story of the wrongful birth lawsuit that Charlotte files against her obstetrician. For example, Piper, Charlotte’s obstetrician, is also her best friend. Marin, Charlotte’s lawyer, is dealing with the search for her birth mother. And Amelia, Willow’s sister, struggles with bulimia and self-injury.

Because each charater gives their own viewpoint, both sides of the wrongful birth lawsuit are equally described. Though I hoped most of the time that Charlotte would win, I also symapthized with the other party. I wasn’t sure of the outcome until it was spelled out in the book.

The fact that the book has a lot of twists and turns, so that you’re never sure of how it ends, is mostly a good thing. It ends up being a very bad thing though as I read the last few pages. The book ends with Willow dying, which in my opinion only spoiled the entire book. I mean, there was some point to Anna dying in My Sister’s Keeper. I didn’t see that this time. As such, the book definitely deserved a five-star rating before I’d completely finished it. Once I’d read those last few pages, not so.

Book Details

Title: Handle With Care
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: March 2009

Pain Doesn’t Have to Be Visible to Be Real

“I always hated when my scars started to fade, because as long as I could still see them, I knew why I was hurting.” – Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

I am a self-injurer. Have been since childhood. Part of the reason has always been to feel something other than emptiness, loneliness, or emotional pain. However, part of the reason has also always been to make my pain be visible. Not even necessarily to others, but to myself.

It feels kind of odd to admit this. After all, wanting to express pain is seen as overreacting, attention-seeking. We are taught to hide and numb out our pain.

I once read a Dutch book on psychosis which started out by eplaining that today’s psychiatry is aimed at ignoring people’s inner experiences, or altering them with drugs. According to the author, we live in a kind of brave new world, where everything is aimed at individual and social stability. Take some soma, baby! And I can relate, having resided in a psychiatric institution for almosot seven years. When I feel stressed, the first response from the nurses is usually to ask if I need a tranquilizer. In fact, when I resided on the locked ward, I’d call oxazepam my “shut up pill”, because nurses would tell me to take it whenever something irritated me.

Please note that psychiatric drugs have some place in treatment of severe mental illness. I take various medications for anxiety, irritability and emotional instability. Sometimes though, I’ve wanted to quit my medicaiton because it numbs me out.

Psychiatric drugs aside, many people are taught that to feel pain is to be weak, and to express it is to be even weaker. Most survivors of trauma feel guilt for the pain they experience, because, you know, others have it worse, it wasn’t that bad after all, you name it. I am still working on admitting that what I suffered was real, and the pain I feel is real as well. Just today, I saw another quote. Something along the lines of: “Your struggles are valid even if others are struggling more.”

Another common misconception is that physical pain is somehow more real than emotional pain. There is a huge stigma associated with mental illness, more so than with physical illness (I’m not saying there’s no stigma associated with physical illness). People all too often think that we can “just get over it” when we’re experiencing emotional turmoil, whereas if there’s something physically or at least visibly wrong with us, it’s real. I am not immune to this, and in my case, this idea perpetuates symptoms such as disordered eating and self-injury.

If you want to get over emotional pain, the first step is admitting it is there and that it is real whether it is associated with visible scars or not. You should not have to convert emotional pain into physical wounds to be taken seriously. Expressing pain in a healthy manner should be allowed, encouraged even, and should be enough to deserve support.

Linking up with Inspire Me Monday and Motivation Monday.