Review: Handle With Care

Title:  Handle With Care

Author:  Jodi Picoult

Published:  March 3, 2009

Page Count:  496

ISBN:  978-0743296410

My Rating:  2.5/5

I don’t really know how to review this book – Jodi Picoult is one of those love or hate authors.  Either people love her, and they’re going to read her newest book no matter what I say, or they hate her, and they wouldn’t come close to any of her books no matter what I say.  So I guess I’ll just relay my thoughts, as scattered as they may be.

The story centers around five-year-old Willow, born with osteogenesis imperfecta (sometimes known as brittle bone disease) and her parents – small town cop Sean O’Keefe and his stay at home mom wife Charlotte.  Willow also has an older sister, Amelia (thirteen years old), who is actually not Sean’s biological child but he adopted her when she was five (something that was mentioned several times in the book but didn’t seem to have much point in relation to the rest of the story).  The family decides to take a much-needed vacation to Disney World (something that’s nearly impossible with Willow’s disease, but they try anyway), and a series of events occur while on vacation which inspire Charlotte to bring a lawsuit against the OB who treated her while she was pregnant with Willow – a wrongful birth suit.  Wrongful birth basically means that had Charlotte been given correct information about Willow’s condition while she was early in her pregnancy, she would have aborted the child.  Oh, and one more thing – the OB she’s suing?  Her long time best friend, Piper Reece.

Anyone familiar with Picoult novels will know that this type of story is  exactly what Picoult does best (in fact, some might argue that it’s the ONLY thing she does).  Having read every novel she’s written, I’m starting to get a little tired of this same type of “everything is not black and white” dilemma that she always presents in her books.  With this one especially, it reminded me a lot of My Sister’s Keeper and I just didn’t think it was as original a story as some of her other books.  Furthermore, I only liked one of the characters (Amelia).  Willow doesn’t count – we barely got to know her, except to learn that she’s extremely precocious and reads at a sixth-grade level (which I did at that age, too, but she was totally not a believable five-year-old, sorry to say).  Charlotte, Sean, Marin (the lawyer), even Piper, I didn’t like any of them.  They were all, every one of them, in my opinion so selfish, so self-absorbed, and to me they didn’t have nearly developed enough personalities.  They were so one-dimensional.  Ugh.

And the ending – I’m getting very, very sick of these Picoult endings.  This one was SO predictable that I wouldn’t even feel like I was spoiling it if I were to tell you what happened.  Don’t worry, I won’t!  I’m just saying – wow.  I guessed from like page 100 (out of 500) what would happen on the last page.  I kind of feel like at this point, Picoult is starting to put these endings in her books naturally, and when every single book you write ends in a similar way it defeats the purpose.  It doesn’t shock the reader anymore.  And I THINK she wants to shock the reader, so maybe she should start changing it up a little.  Give us something we don’t expect from you, Ms. Picoult!

I have to say, though, that just like almost every Picoult I’ve read, this one was definitely a page-turner.  The woman knows how to craft a story so that you NEED to finish the book.  She writes entertaining books.  And I don’t think I’ll ever NOT read a new book from her.  I just wanted more from this one.

Any other Picoult fans?  Any Picoult haters?  Why or why not?  And what did you think of Handle With Care (if you read it at all)?

More reviews –

Let me know if I missed yours!

48 thoughts on “Review: Handle With Care”

  1. Great review, Heather!

    I have never read a Picoult book, for the exact reason that you stated. There’s people that love her, and there’s people that hate her. And judging by people’s reviews, I have a strong feeling that I will end up hating her. I still want to read one of her books just to see, but I have no clue which one to start with, so I keep putting it off.

    1. If you do plan to read one I’d choose one of the following: My Sister’s Keeper, Nineteen Minutes, or Plain Truth. Those are some of the “better” ones in my opinion and are more universally liked.

  2. Picoult does have a formula that works well (sales wise) for her. Sometimes formulas like that get stale with time, though. I’ve only read a few of her books.

  3. Thanks for an honest review.

    She’s one of those authors whose appeal I have never understood. I don’t read her, nor do I read James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks. For the most part, their books are all the same. I’d scratch this one off my list, except it was never there!

    1. I agree about Sparks – I tried to read him once and was completely bored, Patterson I read in middle school but since don’t really enjoy, and I think with Picoult I kind of just got hooked on her years ago and kept reading. The thing is, like I said, her books are strangely addictive because they are highly entertaining. But they aren’t fantastic works of literature or anything… so I can totally get the not being interested at all. 🙂

  4. I’m reading this book right now. I’m only about 60 pages into it, so I’m starring your review (via google reader) to read after I’m finished.

    I did read the first line and whole-heartedly agree – either you like Picoult or you don’t. There’s not much of an in between.

      1. I was so very disspointed last night (in fact, early morning 4.am.) Really do not understand the ending. Pointless!!

  5. I don’t like Picoult, but I thought your review was good. It sounds like she’s writing from a template, doesn’t it? Oh well, whatever works…

  6. I’ve only read two or three of her books- and that was enough for me to get tired of the “formula.” But her premises always explore fascinating themes! I just don’t like the way she writes them.

    1. Agreed, and that’s part of what keeps me reading – I always am curious to see how she handles the next theme she comes up with. But if she broke out of her comfort zone a little bit in terms of her “formula” I think the books would be a lot better.

  7. I’ve only read Nineteen Minutes and My Sister’s Keeper and, although I enjoyed aspects of both books, I don’t consider myself a fan. She’s definitely a formulaic writer, but if you like that particular formula, I say enjoy it. Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever be one to seek out the latest Picoult, but I’m not going to rule out the possibility that I’ll develop a craving for her particular formula. There’s something comforting in knowing what you’re going to get, and you’re right–formula or not, Picoult knows how to keep you reading.

    1. Totally true, and her books are great in a reading funk. Need something quick that you’ll fly through and not be bored by? The vast majority of her books would do the trick.

  8. I am glad I chose My Sister’s Keeper as my first Picoult and as much as I didn’t want to like it (I’m a wanna-be booksnob!?) I did enjoy it.

  9. i find her novels too formulaic and i’ve read a bunch of them. as a person, she was lovely–i met her at a reading and book signing a few years back. she was very entertaining and erudite. i think she uses figurative language beautifully, though.

    1. Oh my goodness, yes her books are PACKED with figurative language. I’d love to meet her, all I’ve heard is how sweet and fun she is in person.

  10. Heather,
    I think you offered up a great review that addresses many of the same thoughts I had while reading this book. The ending…whoa…predictable!! Thanks for linking my review here. I really appreciate it and let’s both keep our fingers crossed that Picoult runs across our reviews and takes it to heart with her next book…we want character DEVELOPMENT, we want to CARE about these people!!

  11. I LOVE Jodi Picoult (even though I totally agree with you about her “formula”, all her books are the same.) I also don’t think her writing is all that great, but I love the story. Like you, I just can’t help turning the page. I call her my guilty pleasure reading!

  12. I’ve never read anything by Picoult. For some reason, she just doesn’t appeal to me all that much. I read a review yesterday which basically said this was her weakest one so far and that, like you said, she’s relaying too heavily on formula. Oh well, I think if I ever do read anything by Picoult, I won’t start with this book!

    1. Yeah I would have to agree with that statement for the most part. Her first two or three books were not good (in my opinion) but this one is definitely her weakest of her last ten or so.

  13. Well, I’ve read My Sister’s Keeper and The Tenth Circle and like them both. I won’t be reading this one 😉 Thanks for the review.

  14. IMO your review is spot on. The only thing I have to add is the following:
    As a doctor’s daughter, I can tell you unequivocally that there is a very good reason for the unwritten rule that medical professionals never treat their own family members or close friends. Much of the drama in Picoult’s story rests upon that one point. Take it away and you basically have “My Sister’s Keeper”. Jodi Picoult is a talented and engaging writer. But I’ll be very careful before I pick up another of her works. Her story-telling talent alone is not enough to get me to read the same story over and over.

  15. I was big into Jodi Picoult awhile back and then I fizzled. Some of her books I’ve really enjoyed, but others were too much for me. This one sounds like one that would aggravate me.

    I do agree that all the books I’ve read by her have been page-turners. Some just made me mad while some I enjoyed.

  16. I was a big Jodi Picoult reader for awhile and then I started to fizzled. But, I’ve wanted to get back into reading her books.

    I agree, her books are page-turners. Some I enjoyed, some angered me. I guess that’s her goal??

  17. I used to love Jodi Picoult. The Pact was one of my favorites. But I agree with the commenter who said she is just too formulaic and her writing suffers as she churns out her plot-driven, predictable books. Don’t believe me? See my review of Change of Heart:

    http://www.liveandletdi.com/my_weblog/2008/05/change-of-heart.html

    Her Nineteen Minutes paled in comparison with the beautiful, frightening and nuanced We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver which dealt with the same subject.

    My 15 year old daughter continues to worship Jodi Picoult, so the books end up here and I often end up reading them. They are quick…and I keep holding out hope that she will sacrifice quantity for quality and bring us back to the old Jodi that we knew and loved.

  18. I second J.S. Peyton’s comment. I’ve never read her, but somehow I can’t get rid of the suspicion that I’d fall in the “hate her” field. One day I’ll actually read one of her books to see if I’m right or wrong, but it definitely won’t be this.

    1. You know what, Nymeth, based on what I know of your reading tastes I can’t see you enjoying Picoult. However, I could absolutely be wrong so there’s nothing wrong with giving her a try if you’re actually interested. And yeah, don’t pick Handle With Care as your first one.

  19. I have read about 4 Jodi Picoult novels and I have loved every one. Although, I think the ones I have read have been the better ones (My Sister’s Keeper, Perfect Match, Plain Truth and Vanishing Acts). I have Handle With Care sitting on my shelf ready to read and I will give it a go but I really have to be in the mood to read one of her novels. They’re a bit heavy for me sometimes.

    And for whatever reason (maybe the plot didn’t really appeal to me), I haven’t been interested in picking up 10th Circle, 19 Minutes or Change of Heart. I figure I’ll get to them one day but the general lack of enthusiasm amoungst her fanbase for these latest novels certainly hasn’t motivated me to move them up the TBR pile.

    Thanks for your honest review!

  20. Loved, loved, loved”My Sister’s Keeper,” which was the first Picoult book I ever read. I have just not been able to get into any others. I’ve started a few and skipped to the end. I find her HIGHLY manipulative and the various changes of viewpoint get old.

    Just my take!

  21. Thanks for the honest review. I’ve seen mixed reviews of this one, and I still plan to check it out at some point, but I wish Picoult would do something else. She’s not a bad writer, and I think she should try something new.

    –Anna

  22. At first I hated the ending, but then I decided I liked a tragic ending better than ‘rainbows and sunshine’ kind of endings, and I give credit to Picoult for ending it the way she does.

    But I do agree her writing seems very based on a ‘recipe’, but I don’t think anyone can write worse than Nicholas Sparks.

  23. When I first read this review I thought “Fantastic! Someone who has written a review describing exactly how I feel!”. I’ve read all of Jodi’s books and have been able to pick the endings since way back at Plain Truth (which I love, by the way). I think it would be great if she did break out from the mould a little bit and returned to her original form – convincing lawsuits, a few three-dimensional characters, not running with the same stock ending, whilst still maintaining her original and haunting prose.

    HOWEVER, this book touched me a lot because I am a school psychologist and know about the rammifications on families of having a child with a disability (financial pressures, marital pressures, siblings forced to grow up too fast) as well as the many positives of getting to know a unique individual, who is, like all of us, just another human being. It may not be the best portrayal, the characters in this novel may not be that likeable, Willow may seem a bit too good to be true and sometimes the points seem a bit laboured, but at least SOMEONE is getting the message out there. Jodi has a huge following, so if her “formula” leads to 10 people who might never have thought about the daily impact that society has on people with disabilities considering this, then I’ll be happy. Maybe it’s more formulaic than I would have liked, but at least the message is getting out in there in some way, shape or form. So, even though I might think “same old, same old” in terms of writing style, I still want to recommend that everybody read it and to consider the message it’s trying to promote. Alternatively, don’t read this book, but read “Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key” by Jack Gantos, or “See Ya Simon” by David Hill to your children, because who knows what impact a simple story might have on someone’s life?

  24. Hi, I liked your review and agree with what you say about Jodi Picoult. My mom and sister love her and have sent me a bunch of her books and always tell me to read them. My mom reads a bunch of stuff, mostly bestsellers and Christian fiction and memoirs about abused kids and such. My sister usually hates to read and I was impressed at any author who could keep her interested for a whole book’s worth of words — which Jodi Picoult does, for her.

    Me, I read a lot, but mainly literary novels and short stories, classics, literary memoirs and essays etc. I guess I’m a pretty snobby reader and I rarely like anything commercial — I was into John Grisham and Elizabeth Berg in high school, and I’d probably still read a book by one of them if I thought about doing it, but that’s about it.

    But then the movie My Sister’s Keeper came out and I decided to finally read that book. I just finished it and haven’t reviewed it in my blog yet but I have the same feelings about it that you have for this Picoult book. The plot was predictable and I didn’t really even like many of the characters. Plus I hated how the narrator changed but almost all the voices seemed the same! I absolutely hated the ending. I was surprised to read that Picoult attended ivy league schools, including writing programs, because I thought a lot of her writing was just dreadful! I guess I did not like the book at all except for the concept behind it, and yes, it did keep me turning the pages and I wanted to finish it even though I didn’t even really like it!

    So now I’m trying to look at it as… what is the appeal? Is it the intriguing basic plot? The fact that it’s easy to read and entertaining? I’m kind of depressed that this is what America reads. But then I think, if I ever want to write a bestseeling novel, maybe I should follow this plot… maybe it’s harder than it seems?

    It’s all very intriguing to me. I didn’t see a review of My Sister’s Keeper on your blog, so I’d be interested in reading what you have to say about that one. I really don’t think I’ll read any more Picoult books, unless it’s part of my “what kind of writing sells nowadays?” experiment. I say kudos to Picoult for being able to write bestselling books *and* the movie rights to them. But I wonder if this is how she would write if she could write anything she wanted and still make a living!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Anita! I did read My Sister’s Keeper, but it was long before I had a blog so I never reviewed it. I enjoyed that one a lot – it was one of my first Picoult books, before I realized how formulaic her books are, and at the time I thought it was one of my favorite books. Now I wouldn’t put it in my “favorites” list but I still think it is a very captivating story and I know why I loved it so much at the time. I’m definitely interested in renting the movie when it comes out.

  25. I just finished “Handle With Care”. I have mixed feelings. It is definitly not as good as her others. I am a severe needs teacher and I talked with people in my field about this topic often. The school councelor and I want to start a support group for siblings of kiddos who are categorized as “severe needs”. Halfway through the book I send the counselor a message that she needs to read this book to be in support of the group. Amelia was a great, deep character. The others were not as interesting or as developed as many of the other characters in her books. The ending- a coop out in my opinion.

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