At five years old, Willow O’Keefe has lived a life rich in love and exceptional learning; she reads beyond her years and has memorized a startling compendium of unusual facts.  She has also sustained over 50 broken bones, two of them in utero.  She has osteogenesis imperfecta, a congenital defect in the body’s production of type 1 collagen that leaves bones very brittle.  People with the disease generally suffer many fractures and often other conditions—exceptionally small stature, hearing loss, and bowed limbs.  Willow’s parents and older sister have organized their lives for five years around protecting her from damage and helping her heal from her many broken bones.  Though Amelia, her older sister, loves Willow, her parents’, Charlotte and Sean’s, intense focus on Willow’s condition often leaves her jealous and disgruntled.  Things go from bad to worse when their mother learns that a lawsuit for “wrongful birth” is legal in New Hampshire, and could bring them the money they need to cover Willow’s many medical expenses.  Such a step, however, means losing a best friend, since the obstetrician who oversaw Charlotte’s pregnancy and Willow’s birth, and who ostensibly overlooked signs of the disease and failed to warn the parents, has been Charlotte’s best friend for years.  A “wrongful birth” suit is based on the claim that medical information about a congenital defect was withheld that might have been grounds for a decision to abort the pregnancy.  Though Charlotte insists this drastic step is the best thing they can do to insure a secure future for Willow, Sean finds it repugnant enough finally to leave home.  It is clear that even a win will be a pyrrhic victory, and indeed, the outcome is ambiguous, costly, and life-changing for everyone concerned.


This novel, like many of Picoult’s, focuses on an unusual case, but very common human medical and psychological dilemmas.  The story is narrated by the various characters successively, each bringing a well articulated, emotionally complex point of view to the problems they all face, each with his or her own kind of pain.  The medical and legal details are well researched, and, though highly dramatic, the plot is well conceived and developed.  It’s a powerful story about love in the midst of pain, sorrow, and deeply conflicting perspectives on what tradeoffs may be entailed in caring for a child with special needs.   


Washington Square Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count