Jodi Picoult’s ‘Handle with Care’: Would you tell your daughter you didn’t want her?
While browsing through the fiction section of a local bookstore, I came across Jodi Picoult’s ‘Handle with Care’. After ‘My Sister’s Keeper’, which was adapted as an award winning motion picture, Picoult has given us another brilliant contemporary novel. Similar to her previous work, her new narrative also focuses on an ethical medical dilemma. What intrigued me to pick up this book was the subtitle, which read,
“To save your daughter you must tell the world you wish she’d never been born.”
As I pondered over the conflicting statement, I walked over to the counter to pay for the book – I couldn’t wait to start reading.
The main protagonist of the novel is 30-year-old Charlotte O’ Keefe, who is mother to a six-year-old Willow, diagnosed with a chronic condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta. For those of you who are not familiar with this term, it refers to a disease which results in excessively fragile bones making a patient extremely vulnerable to fractures from even the slightest amount of trauma. Patients have to take extreme precaution in their everyday lives to avoid fractures. Even a slight fall can result in multiple fractures that may require a half body cast.
Although Willow’s parents Charlotte and Sean are dedicated, loving parents, it is both physically and financially exhausting for them to put Willow’s needs before their own. Furthermore, suffering the brunt of neglect is Willow’s half-sister, Amelia, who feels that her needs have been largely overshadowed by Willow’s more imperative ones. She longs to be part of a normal family like her friend Emma Reece.
After overcoming a few hurdles, both Sean and Charlotte begin to question if their efforts to provide a happy life for Willow will ever be enough. So when an opportunity is presented to them that guarantees to financially secure Willow’s future, they are faced with a dilemma of whether to choose between someone who has been there for you through thick and thin, or your daughter who you promised to love unconditionally. Charlotte has to choose between suing their obstetrician (who also happens to be her best friend) for not diagnosing Osteogenesis Imperfecta early on in Charlotte’s pregnancy which would have given her the option of an abortion, or is she to put her child before everything. Sean, on the other hand, does not want to pursue the case because he does not want his daughter to grow up with the knowledge that her parents would have ended her life before she was even born had they known that she would turn out to be like this. Unspoken remains the fact that he feels that he has failed as a father to adequately provide for his daughter.
The novel goes on to explore the delicate balance of relationships; husband and wife, father and daughter, obstetrician and patient and the neglected daughter, who resorts to bulimia and self-infliction to absolve herself of the pain she feels.
New York Time’s bestselling author, Picoult has once again done a marvellous job of writing a heart-wrenching medical dilemma that explores how the intricate details of all the characters’ lives affect each other. Although, its slow pace becomes arduous at times, it is a must read for a rainy, soul searching day.
The novel makes you wonder what you would have done had you been in the parents’ shoes. If I was Charlotte, would I have betrayed my best friend’s trust to save my daughter? If I was Willow, would I want my parents to publicly declare that they might have ended my life if they had a choice? Throughout the book, you are constantly putting yourself in a particular character’s shoes.
It touches your inner most thoughts which you never discuss with anyone, not even with the closest person in your life. Perhaps it is that fear of sharing and having people judge you if you share these thoughts with them that makes us human, the undistinguished area between right and wrong. It also makes you realise that no matter how much you disagree with it, the fact is that to be loved and wanted is something we do hold above many other things.
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