A Theory of Relativity
Cover art to the first edition
A Theory of Relativity (ISBN 0-06-103199-2) is a 2001 novel written by American author Jacquelyn Mitchard. The book tells the story of a custody battle for a young girl following the sudden death of her parents.
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When Ray and Georgia McKenna-Nye are killed in a horrific car crash, leaving their daughter Keefer Kathryn an orphan, the couple's respective families both believe they are the right people to raise the girl, and consequently file for custody. This book is essentially about the events surrounding the ensuing legal process which will decide Keefer's future.
Keefer's maternal family are the McKennas, a Catholic family of Irish descent, and of modest means, living in rural Wisconsin. Prior to their deaths, Ray and Georgia had lived nearby and the family are fairly close. The paternal family, meanwhile, are the Nyes, born again Christians living in Florida who, though much more financially better off than the McKennas, do not appear to be as close.
The McKennas are initially given guardianship of Keefer after managing to file their case first. However, Georgia's parents, Mark and Lorraine, realise that they may be too old to adopt the girl, so Georgia's brother, Gordon, is encouraged to seek custody of his niece.
There are problems here, though, as Gordon is single, while he and Georgia were adopted, and adopted children do not have the same rights under Wisconsin law as blood relatives. As a result of these factors, Gordon's petition is eventually turned down by a Wisconsin judge and interim custody granted to the Nyes with a view to Keefer eventually being adopted by her father's relatives. Gordon is given permission to appeal the decision and quickly decides to do so.
The driving force behind the Nyes plan to adopt Keefer are Ray's parents, Raymond Senior and his wife Diane. However, they do not personally seek custody of Keefer either, and because of circumstances, their children are also unable to. So, their niece (Ray's cousin) Delia, and her husband Craig, file for custody. Delia already has a teenage daughter, Alex, from a previous marriage, but she and Craig believe they are unable to have children. They also live in Wisconsin, and are seen by the social services as having a more suitable family structure for raising a young girl.
While Keefer is living with Craig and Delia, the McKennas launch a campaign to have the law changed in a bid to prevent other adopted people from facing similar problems in the future. Their efforts bring them to the attention of local politician Phil Kay, who champions their cause in the Wisconsin legislature, and the relative changes are passed unanimously.
Shortly before the appeal is to be held, it emerges that Delia is suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, and has also become pregnant. She is unable to take her medication during her pregnancy and is not coping very well with having to look after a young child.
At the appeal, the judge advises the two families that it would be better for everyone concerned, and particularly Keefer, if they were able to sort things out between themselves rather than through the courts. Taking this on board, Gordon decides to give up his bid to adopt Keefer, but only on the proviso that Delia and Craig stay in the area until Keefer is at least five. An agreement is reached and the adoption process begins.
However, shortly after giving birth to a boy, who is named Hugh, Delia suffers a severe brain haemorrhage and is placed on a life support machine. When the McKennas learn what has happened, they go to the hospital to offer Craig their support. He is at first reluctant to accept this, but as Delia's condition deteriorates, he begins to realise the full gravity of the situation. He and Gordon then have a heart to heart in which they discuss Keefer's future.
The final chapter of the book catches up with Keefer as a ten year old, and she narrates the events of the intervening years. She is adopted by Gordon after Delia dies. Delia's daughter, Alex, goes to live with her father, while Craig raises Hugh with Gordon's help and advice, and the two become good friends. Gordon and Alex then meet again some years later when Alex becomes a counsellor at Keefer's school. They have a relationship and the story concludes with Alex giving birth to a daughter.
- Jones, Malcolm, Vern Smith, and Ray Sawhill (2001-08-27). "The Hard Sell". Newsweek.
- Steinberg, Sybil (6/11/2001). "When Life and Fiction Blur". Publisher's Weekly 248 (24): 30.
- Wallraff, Barbara (July–August 2001). "A Theory of Relativity". Atlantic Monthly 288 (1): 164.
- Leber, Michele (5/1/2001). "A Theory of Relativity (Book Review)". Library Journal 126 (8): 127.
- Zaleski, Jeff (2001-04-23). "A Theory of Relativity (Book Review)". Publisher's Weekly 248 (17): 45.
- A Theory of Relativity by Jacquelyn Mitchard ISBN 0-06-103199-2