10 hours ago I finished Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult…and I could not wait a minute longer to share my thoughts with you.
If you have not read it, but might, stop reading here. There are spoilers in this!
Ok…so the only people still reading are not worried about spoilers, right?
OK here goes:
What the fuckity fuck.
This book was awful – sad, painful, exhausting. It’s not just the controversial topic – a wrongful birth lawsuit of a disabled child who would have been aborted had the family known – but the series of tragedies, with ZERO resolution, that followed.
I know, I know, this is Picoult’s style. I get that, I really do. But this book was so damn sad and left me feeling so damn hopeless.
First of all – Willow was clearly a wanted child. Yet, through an incredibly difficult life that I could never understand, her Mother (Charlotte) wages a lawsuit where she is required to stand in front of a jury and admit that had she known how sick Willow was, she would have aborted her. Willow was 6 and old enough to understand, throughout the book she does numerous things to show that she feels like they will get rid of her because she’s “broken” – and still, it doesn’t slow her Mother’s resolve down.
Secondly – the person Charlotte is suing is her oldest, and closest friend. The woman she tells everything to, and have raised their daughters together (to be best friends)…pretty much a sister. Up until the moment the lawsuit is served, they are spending time together – shopping, being together, being best friends. The lawsuit destroys Piper – she is unable to return to work, she is lost under the weight of being sued by her very best friend, who she would do anything for, and who had never breathed a word of the thoughts that bred this lawsuit. Piper becomes a shadow of herself, just going through the motions and trying to figure out how to move on.
Thirdly – this lawsuit also destroys Amelia – Charlotte’s oldest daughter. She begins shoplifting, develops bulimia and starts cutting in attempts to make sense of what is going on. She loses her best friend (Piper’s daughter, who now hates Amelia and her family), she becomes an outcast at school. Her mother is so preoccupied with the lawsuit and Willow, she feels neglected and unwanted and she hates herself passionately.
Fourthly (I know, not a word), Charlotte’s husband Sean is in direct disagreement with the lawsuit. He refuses to say that he wouldn’t have had Willow, determined to give Willow a safe place where she is loved and wanted. He is horrified at the unfolding of the lawsuit and the way it is destroying everything. He eventually separates from Charlotte, and then files for divorce while testifying against her in the lawsuit that Willow was and is wanted.
Despite all of this unease and negativity – Charlotte presses forward, determined that this is the right thing for Willow. Even when Willow’s actions show she believes she is not wanted and not loved, Charlotte continues.
In the end, she wins the lawsuit at the cost of her marriage, her best friend, and both of her daughters mental health (Willow, at 6.5, slits her wrists during the trial and almost bleeds out). She then takes her 8 million dollar cheque and sticks it to her fridge, without even cashing it. All that ruin, all that damage, and she doesn’t even cash the damn cheque.
Then – in true Picoult fashion – Willow, the sweet girl that is the very center of this story, the girl that her mother lost almost everything for, the girl that is desperate to prove her worth falls through a frozen pond and drowns. The end.
I can’t even begin to imagine was Picoult was getting at. Was she trying to show the harms of a wrongful birth lawsuit? Was she pro-choice or pro-life? Is she just interested in making a controversy so complicated it’s impossible to pick a side?
The entire thing makes me feel sick. I cannot imagine birthing and raising a child, loving and caring for a child, and then suing the Doctor who diagnosed her with an illness – claiming that had I known, I would have aborted her. Especially if the Doctor was your closest friend. But then again, I don’t have a special needs child who’s needs are bleeding our finances dry – who I am afraid, every day, that something I cannot pay for will happen or that I will die and leave them with no one to care for them.
As much as I wanted to like and understand Charlotte, I mostly hated her. It wasn’t what she was doing necessarily (I understand it was truly about the money, and securing a future for Willow) – it was that she was willing to carry on, despite the cost of almost everyone else in her life, that made me hate her.
It’s such a complicated topic – but I like to think that if I were in her shoes, I would have backed down when I realized it was costing me everyone – my husband, my children, my best friend. But, then again, I suppose she was at a point where she realized she had already lost everything – why not carry on to at least having something at the end of it.
Have you read it? What are your thoughts?