Willow is more than your average five year old. She has the vocabulary of a sixth grader, an encyclopedic general knowledge and is a bright, cheerful child. She also has osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bones. OI causes defective connective tissue and inadequate collagen production in the body, which impacts the bones and leads to frequent breaks. In her novel, Handle With Care, Jodi Picoult addresses many of the realities of this condition, exploring the challenges but also the joys of living.
A Confronting Topic
Many people with disabilities may find the book confronting, as its central plot involves Willow's parents suing for medical negligence over her birth. It is made clear that the lawsuit is primarily motivated by parents who need extra money to raise the child; not by parents who regret having her. The question throughout the novel is whether the money is really worth the greater cost to family and to other relationships.
I think the great strength of the book is highlighting the practical and financial challenges frequently faced by people with disabilities and their families. The novel shows the impact these challenges can have on all members of the family. Meanwhile, the portrayal of Willow stands out as the reader gets to know a wonderful young girl who is not defined by her physical limitations.
Looking to the future
I found myself wondering about the realities of Willow's future. The challenges of her condition did seem all consuming. However I know from my own experience that the formative years are often the most intense in terms of treatments and therapies as you and your family try to build the foundations for a stable future. How would she manage her condition as an independent adult? It was made clear that a normal future of work, marriage and children was possible, but the practicalities of achieving these goals were never fully explored.
This novel is an engrossing read and is instructive about many aspects of living with a disability. It is a story that asks many questions about right and wrong and, even at its conclusion, offers no clear answers.
To find out more about osteogenesis inperfecta visit the OI Society of Australia website: http://www.oiaustralia.org.au/