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Cover image for A theory of relativity
A theory of relativity
1st [large print] ed.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, ©2001.
Physical Description:
611 pages ; 24 cm


Call Number

On Order



"[An] astonishing pleasure."

--Seattle Times

"A graceful, moving, and compelling novel. Jacquelyn Mitchard at her finest."

--Scott Turow, author of Innocent

A poignant and unforgettable novel from Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the monumental New York Times bestsellers The Deep End of the Ocean and The Most Wanted, A Theory of Relativity is a powerful tale that explores the emotional dynamics and dramas of two families fighting for custody of a young child . The very first author selected by the Oprah Book Club, Mitchard is a matchless, wise, and warm chronicler of families and their human foibles--and A Theory of Relativity is contemporary women's fiction at its best, a must-read for fans of Sue Miller, Jane Hamilton, and Elizabeth Berg.

Author Notes

Jacquelyn Mitchard was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 10, 1957. She studied creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1976, she became a journalist and eventually achieved the position as lifestyle columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. Her weekly column, The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship, appeared in 125 newspapers nationwide until she retired it in 2007.

She is the author of children's, young adult, and adult books. Her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was the first selection for Oprah's Book Club and was named by USA Today as one of the ten most influential books of the past 25 years. It was also adapted into a movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Her other adult novels include The Breakdown Lane; Twelve Times Blessed; Christmas, Present; A Theory of Relativity; The Most Wanted; Cage of Stars; and Still Summer. Her children's books include Starring Prima!: The Mouse of the Ballet Jolie; Rosalie, My Rosalie: The Tale of a Duckling; and Ready, Set , School! Her young adult books include Now You See Her; All We Know of Heaven; and The Midnight Twins series.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Gordon McKenna is a handsome 24-year-old science teacher who thought life was as tough as it could get when his only sister, Georgia, was diagnosed with cancer. Then she and her husband die in a car crash, leaving behind their one-year-old daughter, Keefer. Gordon willingly gives up his self-involved bachelor life and adopts his beloved niece. Georgia's in-laws, however, have different wishes for their granddaughter. Well heeled, conservative and wealthy, they believe their born-again Christian niece and her husband should get custody of the child. Their challenge to Gordon's custody lies in the fact that both he and Georgia were adopted children, with "only" love, not blood, connecting Gordon and Keefer. Thus begins the custody battle which makes up the bulk of this book. Mitchard is known for her bestseller, The Deep End of the Ocean (Oprah's very first book pick, back in Sept. '96), as well as for her nationally syndicated newspaper column about family life. As a widowed mother of five adopted children who was once part of a custody suit, Mitchard is an expert on how even the most loving and functional households can be thrown into turmoil and chaos without warning. She writes with grace and authority, and Juliette Parker's gentle and even reading of the text gives a slightly upbeat feel to this suspenseful and emotional tale that challenges the legal definition of "family." Simultaneous release with HarperCollins hardcover (Forecasts, Apr. 23). (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

The author of Oprah’s first pick (The Deep End of the Ocean, 1996, etc.) returns, this time with a repetitive and tedious examination of a custody battle. The tale begins with tragedy as Georgia and Ray Nye are killed in a car accident. Georgia, suffering from a terminal cancer, was expected to die soon, but the death of Ray raises an unanticipated question: Who will care for their one-year-old daughter, Keefer? Of course Georgia’s parents, the McKennas, want beloved Keefer to stay with them in the small Wisconsin town she knows. And of course the Florida-based Nyes want her as well. Soon, though, both sets of grandparents, realizing their age would hamper their custody suits, agree on surrogates: Georgia’s brother Gordon and Ray’s cousin Delia each petition to adopt Keefer. Gordon loses the first round under a state law granting automatic adoption rights only to blood relatives. Both Gordon and Georgia were adopted as infants, and though the McKenna family bond is tight, it holds no sway with the archaic law. So Delia and her husband Craig, second cousins who barely know Keefer, are granted temporary rights until an appeal. The familiar theme of selfishness in child custody cases gets ample play here. Both parties believe they’re the best suited to raise Keefer, who clearly suffers as she is shuttled back and forth for visits between religiously strict Delia and Craig and the arty, relaxed McKennas. Mitchard does well with characters: the charming, slightly irresponsible Gordon, the tightly wound Nyes, even the wild Georgia (in flashbacks) all come to life on the page. Here, however, her story depends too much on the adoption outcome and becomes mired in the sorrow, thick as molasses, that results from the waiting. It takes much too long to get to the admittedly touching surprise end, narrated by nine-year-old Keefer. Mediocre fare, on balance, despite the few tears won at the close. (For another Oprah-anointed author, see Cleage, above.) Author tour; radio satellite tour

Booklist Review

As a Wisconsin-based, nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, Mitchard covers family life. As a best-selling novelist (her first book, The Deep End of the Ocean, 1996, hit the Oprah jackpot), she writes with insight and suspense about the trials and tribulations that strike even the most smoothly functioning and loving households. Mitchard's third novel begins with two deaths, a tragedy the sheriff of Tall Trees, Wisconsin, decides to share first with Gordon McKenna, a sexy, easygoing 24-year-old science teacher and brother of one of the deceased, the young and lovely Georgia O'Keeffe McKenna Nye. She and her husband, Ray, have died in a somewhat suspicious car accident, leaving behind Keefer, their one-year-old daughter. Gordon and Georgia were exceptionally close, and he had already put his once carefree, casually promiscuous life on hold to help look after Keefer while Georgia confronted breast cancer. Gordon and his parents assume they'll be the child's guardians; Ray's parents and extended family assume otherwise. And so, before anyone can even begin to mourn, a convoluted and highly emotional custody battle ensues. It never occurs to the McKennas that the fact that Georgia and Gordon were adopted from different birth parents could play a role in the nasty proceedings, but they are forced to challenge a grievously unfair law that distinguishes between "blood" and adopted relatives, and Gordon also has to prove that a single, almost offensively good-looking babe-magnet can make a good father. Mitchard, herself the mother of adopted children who was drawn into an unexpected custody battle, brings literary finesse, wisdom, and deep emotion to this believable and remarkably involving tale of anguished people trying to do the right thing. Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

Mitchard, whose debut novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was Oprah's first book club selection, offers another slam dunk here. The book opens with a jolt "They died instantly" then focuses on the love for a child and just what makes a family. When cancer-ridden, 26-year-old Georgia McKenna Nye and her husband Ray die in a car crash, the question of who will raise their one-year-old daughter, Keefer, rends two families, who file opposing claims, and brings national media attention to the issue of adoptees' rights. State law gives first consideration for custody to blood relatives, and Georgia's younger brother Gordon, to many the most logical adoptive parent, was himself adopted, as was Georgia. Even an expeditious legislative victory to close the loophole fails to bring closure, as the parties wrangle amid their grief. If it's all wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly, no matter, since these characters are so wonderfully human and their wrenching situation is so skillfully unfurled. Essential for popular fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/00.] Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.