Handle with Care

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Handle with Care
Written by: Jodi Picoult
Central Theme:
First published: March 3, 2009
v · d · e

A 2009 novel by Jodi Picoult.

When Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe's daughter, Willow, is born with severe osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, they are devastated as she will suffer hundreds of broken bones as she grows, a lifetime of pain. As the family struggles to make ends meet to cover Willow's medical expenses, Charlotte thinks she has found an answer. If she files a wrongful birth lawsuit against her ob/gyn for not telling her in advance that her child would be born severely disabled, the monetary payouts might ensure a lifetime of care for Willow. But it means that Charlotte has to get up in a court of law and say in public that she would have terminated the pregnancy if she'd known about the disability in advance - words that her husband can't abide, that Willow will hear, and that Charlotte cannot reconcile. And the ob/gyn she's suing isn't just her physician - it's her best friend.

Not to be confused with any of the half-dozens films or four albums of the same name.

Tropes used in Handle with Care include:
  • Chekhov's Gun: The pond at the O'Keefe's house.
  • Child Prodigy: Willow.
  • Collateral Angst: A big part of the book is the fact that while Willow is physically injured for most of the book (she has brittle bone disease), it's her mother, Charlotte, that does all the angsting - and it's her mother's lawsuit that threatens the family, not Willow's disease. Even Charlotte is forced to realize that the court case she's set in motion is more about herself than Willow.
  • Deus Angst Machina: The whole family, but especially Amelia.
  • Diabolus Ex Machina
  • Emo Teen: Amelia
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Charlotte backstabbing her loyal friend, Piper, ruining her entire career in order to get money from the ensuing lawsuit. It's a Kick the Dog moment for Charlotte, but in-universe, Piper comes off worst; the last we hear of her she's working part-time at a free clinic, having lost her former position, and judging by the stilted conversation she has with Willow and Sean, this is not where she wants to be.
  • Honor Before Reason: Because that substantial check certainly wouldn't benefit anyone else...say, other children suffering from brittle bone disease.
  • Ill Girl
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Willow's portrayal of the trial from the last chapter, which is told in her point of view.
  • Knight Templar Parent: Charlotte, who pretty much ruins the life of everyone around her in order to secure Willow's future.
    • In fact, the Aesop of the entire book is about precisely why it's bad to be a Knight Templar. It may seem alright to do horrible things in the service of a noble cause, but they're still horrible things and if the entire reason you did them becomes moot then all you're left with is the consequences of your own atrocities. It's basically CS Lewis' famous speech on the doctrine of the second coming with more words and less religion.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Willow.
  • Multiple Narrative Modes: All chapters but one are in second person perspective, using "you" to refer to Willow. The final chapter is told from Willow's first person perspective.
  • Parental Favoritism: As in all of Jodi Picoult's novels. Charlotte's daughter from her previous marriage, Amelia, is forgotten about. She eventually starts cutting herself and develops bulimia. The person who notices, in fact, is not Charlotte or Sean but Piper, the ob/gyn they are suing.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The outcome of the lawsuit for Charlotte.
    • In more detail, Charlotte is left friendless, with no social life, having betrayed her best friend through the lawsuit, and without her daughters. Amelia is left equally isolated by her mother's actions, having lost her best friend - Piper's daughter - who has turned all her classmates against her as well. She's also been shipped away to a clinic to sort out her bulimic and self-harming issues. Piper has lost her job and her reputation is destroyed. The O'Keefes never get around to cashing the cheque that Charlotte overturned their lives for, since Willow drowns in a freak accident and Charlotte puts the cheque in her coffin, making the Pyrrhic victory complete.
  • Self-Harm: Amelia is a cutter. Willow almost dies emulating Amelia later in the book.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Willow drowns in a freak accident at the end of the book, as detailed under Pyrrhic Victory, rendering the main plot pointless. Everyone else winds up worse off than before, making it a glorious example of shaggy-dog shooting.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Many reviews criticize Willow's death for being this.
  • The Unfavourite: Amelia, since Willow is basically the centre of the O'Keefe family. For the most part, Amelia is not allowed to do things that Willow can't do. For example, the trip to Walt Disney World, where Amelia is only allowed to go on the rides that Willow can go on, rather than her parents taking them on separate rides. To add insult to injury, by the end of the book, with Amelia left friendless, neglected and self-recriminating, Charlotte and Sean subject her to a tirade of abuse when Amelia's self-harming and bulimic problems are revealed, complaining that they "don't understand" what her problem is.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Sean and Piper share a kiss while Piper's fallen out with her husband and Sean is separated from Charlotte.