ith a bolt-from-the-blue opening sentence, "They died instantly," Jacquelyn Mitchard grabs hold of her readers and pulls them into a story of love, heartache, tragedy and triumph in her latest novel, A Theory of Relativity. As evidenced in her previous bestsellers, The Deep End of the Ocean and The Most Wanted, Mitchard proves beyond a doubt that she ranks as a premier storyteller.

Keefer Kathyrn Nye, only a year old when her parents die in a car crash near Madison, Wisconsin, is the focal point of a bitter, prolonged custody battle. Keefer's bachelor uncle, 24-year-old science teacher Gordon McKenna, seems the most appropriate custodian for his niece, since he helped his parents care for the little girl while his sister battled cancer. However, Keefer's paternal grandparents, the affluent and aggressive Ray and Diane Nye, challenge his claim, asserting that their deceased son would want his child's godparents (the Nye's niece and her husband) to have custody.

The fact that Georgia and Gordon were adopted from different birth parents plays a prominent role in the proceedings, forcing the McKennas to challenge a grievously unfair law that distinguishes between "blood" and adopted relatives. After exhaustive social studies and hearings in which Gordon has to prove that a single man can make a good father, a judge rules that in the best interest of Keefer, she should live with her godparents. As Gordon and his mother Lorraine draw up plans to challenge the adoption, they find that even with an expeditious legislative victory to close the loophole, their hard work fails to bring a satisfying closure to the lawsuit. The decision stands, and the parties must come to a mutual agreement on what's best for Keefer.

Inspired by a real-life case, Mitchard's novel draws on her own experience as an adoptive parent to lend realism and emotion to the story. Once again, she captures her reader's hearts, drains them emotionally and then rewards them with a surprising twist.

Sharon Galligar Chance writes from Wichita Falls, Texas.

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