Monthly Archives: May 2009

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

handle-with-careIn a small New Hampshire town lives a family of four: Dad is a cop; Mom was once a professional pastry chef who now spends her time taking care of two daughters. Amelia is a somewhat troubled preteen; Willow is a 5-year-old with a rare genetic disease, osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), type III. And everything else about this family and everything about this novel spins back to that genetic mutation: Willow’s bones don’t form properly. By the time she was born, she had seven broken bones, which had been seen on ultrasound; four more got broken during the delivery; and by now, five years later, her whole family speaks the language of Willow’s vulnerable bones. Everyone knows the sound and the look of another one breaking. This is why Amelia feels left out and angry and self-hating by turns, and this is why the mother’s days are a constant challenge of caretaking and advocacy and worry. And this is what’s so good about Jodi Picoult’s “Handle With Care.” When I was doing my residency in pediatrics (at the same children’s hospital where Willow goes for her experimental therapy, which may strengthen her bones but may also have bad side effects years down the line), I was awed by the parents of children with chronic diseases like OI. They seemed to me a fascinating, heroic and almost completely invisible part of the population, recognizing one another, telling their astounding stories, “going to medical school the hard way,” as we sometimes called it. Why were there not novels and movies and ballads to celebrate their love and their determination and their very particular side of the story? Well, here’s such a novel. It’s well written, it’s conscientiously researched and, most important, it presents a character who is a child instead of a disability personified. With her strong personality and weak bones, Willow is a 5-year-old who knows too much. She’s jealous of what other children can do. The action of “Handle With Care” begins when Willow’s mother, Charlotte, decides to bring a suit against her own best friend, the obstetrician who took care of her during the pregnancy. It’s a “wrongful life” suit, arguing that if the diagnosis of osteogenesis imperfecta had been made at the first prenatal ultrasound, she would have been able to make the decision to terminate the pregnancy at 18 weeks. Instead, the suit argues, the obstetrician missed certain subtle signs, and that diagnosis wasn’t made till the 27-week ultrasound revealed those seven broken bones. By that time, Charlotte and her husband were unwilling to consider a late-term abortion. Everyone around Charlotte is opposed to this lawsuit. Her husband won’t have any part of it. Her older daughter is destroyed by it, inside and out, and loses her best friend, the obstetrician’s daughter. Willow herself is devastated, correctly understanding that her mother is claiming that it would have been better if she had never been born. The organized osteogenesis imperfecta community is furious. When Charlotte takes her daughter to an OI convention, Willow is overjoyed to be in a group where she’s normal, but finds that her mother is a pariah. Even Charlotte’s lawyer, a young woman on a quest to locate her birth mother, doesn’t like the smell of this wrongful-birth suit. With the deck stacked against Charlotte, it’s sometimes hard to feel much sympathy for her. And yet, this mother is caught between the genuine love she feels for her child, to whom she has devoted herself completely, and the anger she feels at what has happened to her life: “What if it was someone’s fault?” she thinks. “How could I admit to anyone — much less myself — that you were not only the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to me . . . but also the most exhausting, the most overwhelming?” Yes, the money she hopes to win could buy her daughter the best wheelchairs, the best summer camps, but for the sake of wringing that money out of the system, she destroys her closest friend, alienates her older daughter, horrifies her husband and damages the child she’s trying to help. You don’t have to be a physician, with a somewhat jaundiced view of the personal-injury tort system, to wish Charlotte could see what every other character can see — that she is creating a new and terrible tragedy. Charlotte’s motivation for the lawsuit, which will endanger if not ruin everything she loves, is that she needs money to take proper care of her daughter. I couldn’t help remembering my old days at the hospital and the families who would make their way down from New Hampshire, a state notoriously limited in the services it provided to children with disabilities. Those parents all made the same dark joke, quoting the Revolutionary War slogan on their license plates: “Live free or die.” “Handle With Care” is a great read, with strong characters, an exciting lawsuit to pull you along and really good use of the medical context. Picoult does a terrific job of evoking OI and its peculiarities — from the likelihood that parents might be accused of child abuse (because of fractures that don’t “make sense”) to the incessant push and pull of wanting a child to experience kindergarten friendships, Disney World and ice skating, while worrying constantly that another fragile bone will break.

In typical Picoult style, Jodi once again takes an incredible story into a real life case for us to tear through her pages wanting to know what is going to happen.  Again, she does not disappoint.  Willow is such a lovable little girl with a quick wit and a smile to match…. its hard to imagine what a life would be like with her…. let alone…. without her.

This book takes you into the depth of a families struggles to get by with a severely handicapped daughter who needs full-time care not only now at age 5… but there s a good chance for the rest of her life.  When Charlotte (the mother) decides to sue the doctor for not letting her know earlier of the child’s handicap, the book just takes on wings as the doctor is also Charlotte’s best friend, Piper. Then take it from Willow’s sister Amelia’s view where her parents are so engrossed with Willow and all her needs that she feels left out, uncared for, during her early teenage years.

This book will make you struggle with who you agree with, and in my case, that opinion changes as you go through the book first angry, then hopeful…. I think I went through every emotion I have.

While the ending threw me a bit for a loop – I wont go into details as you have to – HAVE TO – read this book.  Jodi Picoult is an amazing writer, her court cases make you feel like you have a front row seat and hand on to it tight, because when it comes to Picoult, you are in for something special.


The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

TheWednesdaySisters_300_450The Wednesday Sisters: Set during the summer of 1968 in Palo Alto, California, Clayton’s novel chronicles the lives of five women who conduct a weekly writing group at their neighborhood park. Frankie is an unassuming midwesterner whose inventor husband brings them to the burgeoning Silicon Valley. She meets Linda, the all-American athlete; Kath, the southern belle; Brett, the enigmatic scientist; and Ally, the shy bohemian. The women share their feelings about marriage and motherhood and together mourn the assassination of Robert Kennedy and watch as man walks on the moon and feminists protest the Miss America pageant. They support one another through illness, infertility, racism, and infidelity—and encourage each other through publishers’ rejections. Readers will be swept up by this moving novel about female friendship and enthralled by the recounting of a pivotal year in American history as seen through these young women’s eyes.

I stumbled upon this book while looking for something to recommend to our book club for May.  I loved the fact that the book was about strong women and apparently a bit before their time.  I excitedly brought it into the vote but it did not win.

I could not let it go so I used the gift card I received from Brad and Justin for Mother’s day to purchase this among a few other treasures.  I brought it with to the cabin for Memorial Weekend and devoured it word for word.

This book featured excellent characters that I not only could relate too, but almost wished that i too could be a Wednesday Sister and join them as they discuss children and husbands, lives and dreams.  I loved that they all tried their hand at writing… I loved Linda’s strong personality, Kath’s sweet heart, Ally’s insecurities, Brett’s secret heartache, and Frankie’s wisdom.  These five made a group that was a delight to read about!  I even pulled a couple ideas out of the book to use for our book club including one great idea to have a “come as your favorite fiction character” party.  I already know who I will be……

There was a line in the book (of course I can’t find it now) that talked about how most women are lucky to have even one really close friend in a lifetime… I really thought about this and it is true.  I am blessed to have many friends through the years that I would say I am very close too.  What a great gift friendship is.

I enjoyed this book and will be looking for more from this author.  her characters were alive and real and what a privilege to spend time with these amazing women! A HIGH FIVE rating!  I will be bringing this to book club again for another try!

See Meg Waite Clayton’s website here ***Also – see where Meg added part of this review to her website!!! (Thanks Meg!)

Back to Life by Kristin Billerbeck

Back to LifeI am a bit behind in my reviews here…. I actually finished Back to Life about a month ago.  It took forever to get through…. I bought this book in Tegucigalpa Honduras – at the airport – and in a hurry as my plane was loading and i just needed something to read.  The cover looked good and I just needed a light read for the plane…..

Lindsay took to marriage like a starlet to stilettos, but her husband had a deeper love for his business. Left alone after his death, Lindsay must find out who she is when there isn’t a party to plan or another person’s life to be organized. Can she find her way Back to Life?

Lindsay realized when she married Ron, a man seventeen years her senior, that the odds were he’d see heaven before her, but she never expected to be a widow at thirty-five. She knows there’s too much of life remaining for her to just sit around in mourning, but she can’t seem to kick-start the rest of her life. Then unexpected help arrives…when Ron’s first wife, Jane, shows up at Lindsay’s front door.

The executor of their late husband’s estate, Jane is everything Lindsay’s not: strong, stubborn, independent…and a lot older. There are other surprises as well, including Ron Jr. (whom Jane insists is not “really” Ron’s son). But against all odds, a most unlikely friendship begins to develop—as each woman discovers how to own up to her past mistakes and to reevaluate what is really important. Told in the alternating voices of Jane and Lindsay, and featuring the return of many of the unforgettable characters introduced in The Trophy Wives Club, Back to Life is a lighthearted, relatable read about where to turn when life goes in a direction you never planned.

Ok – I know…. once on the plane I reviewed my choice and felt I had picked up something pretty cheesy.  And when I noticed it said it was one of the trophy wife club books I really thought I was in for it. The book was pretty much what I expected – lite Chirstian fiction, not a lot of meat to it… kind of on the lines of the Ya Ya Sister books and the Potluck Club.

I didn’t find the characters particularilly likable…. Lindsay is pretty shallow and I just never can wrap my mind fully around Jane.  It took me months to complete and basically I just wanted to know if it ever got better.  In my opinion it did not.  A  D- rating.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Jacob Jankowski says: “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. His life wasn’t always like this, however, because Jacob ran away and joined the circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn’t a romantic, carefree decision, to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. He buried his parents, learned that they left him nothing because they had mortgaged everything to pay his tuition, returned to school, went to the exams, and didn’t write a single word. He walked out without completing the test and wound up on a circus train. The circus he joins, in Depression-era America, is second-rate at best. With Ringling Brothers as the standard, Benzini Brothers is far down the scale and pale by comparison.

How did I read this book I procrastinated on getting to until three days before the review?  Very quickly!  I started at the YMCA where the first few chapters hit so close to home for me that I found myself crying on the elliptical one moment and then writing on a paper towel my thoughts from the tread mill the next.  Then reading while I road with Al to Crosslake to look at a job on Sunday and finally finished it this evening while Al watched The Big Bang Theory.

water-for-elephantsBut – to the review.  I found this book enlightening.  I enjoyed the circus background – the details of what went on in a 1930’s circus from the traveling by train, the lack of pay and less than ideal living situations.  I dove into the life of Jacob and how he made his way into the new and exciting life of working on a circus.  The relationships built throughout this book felt genuine and I felt for Camel and loved the friendship that developed between Jacob and Kinko (Walter).

The circus workers seemed real and I could picture them with their rugged clothes, sad stories of broken homes, and childhood dreams.

I could have lived without all the words of Barbara and there was a couple parts that I would take out of my memory bank – but overall I can not fault the book.  The writing is good, very good and I loved the flashbacks as Jacob tells the story of his circus days from his nursing home at the age of 90… or 93.

Highly recommended- don’t give up on the book when you run across the bit visually graphic parts…. they are few and the book is good.

Oh – and for the record.  I would have killed him too.  4 rating

***Update May 12th Book review:  This was an excellent review for us.  The book rated high, mostly high 4’s and 5’s.  We loved the circus theme and while we did discuss the crude parts of the book, found it necessary to stay true to the theme and the times.  This book felt real with vibrant characters and plot themes.  We loved the ending and overall had a wonderful discussion.