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.)