Handle With Care – by Jodi Picoult (2009)

Handle With Care

If you’ve read any of Jodi Picoult’s novels, you know that they generally tackle the issue of some terrible moral dilemma that a person/family finds themselves in. “Handle With Care” deals with the topic of whether children with severe disabilities have a life worth living.

The O’Keefe family is in such a situation. Sean and Charlotte have a normal daughter, Amelia, and then have Willow, who is born with osteogenesis imperfecta. Her body is incapable of making normal bones, so even a slight bump can cause a fracture. She is born with multiple broken bones. For the next six years, Sean and Charlotte are constantly modifying Willow’s environment to keep her safer, seeking out specialists, and dealing with casts and surgeries. Needless to say, this care costs a lot of money, more than the family can possibly afford. After six years, Charlotte decides to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the obstetrician who cared for her (Piper), who also happens to be her best friend.

The story moves back and forth in time. You get to see how Sean and Charlotte met, how Charlotte and Piper’s friendship began, and Willow’s birth. You read detailed descriptions of Willow’s day-to-day life, and her injuries and treatments. You wonder, how could parents handle all this and retain their sanity?

Equally heartbreaking was the parallel storyline of Willow’s older sibling, Amelia. She is the overlooked person in the family. At times she becomes almost invisible as everyone focuses on saving Willow. Amelia’s life becomes broken as well, but in a different way.

This book is another well-written novel by Ms. Picoult. It is also available as an audiobook. Each character’s chapters are read by a different narrator, which really makes the story come alive. You can find a copy of the printed book or the audio version at your public library.

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House Rules – by Jodi Picoult (2010)

House Rules

The description inside this book will tell you that “House Rules” is about a young man – Jacob Hunt – who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and is charged with killing his tutor, Jess Ogilve. Did he really kill her? While the trial is a big part of the story, it seems to me that the real story is Jacob’s struggle to live day-to-day with Asperger’s, and how it affects every member of the family. The telling of the story rotates between Jacob, his mother Emma, his younger brother Theo, his attorney Oliver, and the police investigator Rich. The timeline jumps back and forth between the present and the years of Jacob as a child.

I came to appreciate each character in the story after reading their point of view. Emma’s love for her son, her patience, her willingness to do whatever it took to give her son a “normal” life, was inspiring. When Theo expressed how overlooked he felt over the years as all the attention was focused on his brother, I felt great sympathy for him. As Oliver and Rich told their parts of the story, I could see how conflicted they were about Jacob. And Jacob – it was just plain amazing to see how he viewed the world and the people around him.

After reading this book, I have a much better understanding of Asperger’s. There is a small amount of content and language that some readers may object to, but overall this is a well-written novel worth reading. It is also available as an audiobook, with different narrators reading the parts of the main characters.