Book Review - Relativity by Antonia Hayes

Ethan is an exceptionally gifted young boy, obsessed with physics and astronomy.

His single mother Claire is fiercely protective of her brilliant, vulnerable son. But she can't shield him forever from learning the truth about what happened to him when he was a baby; why Mark had to leave them all those years ago.

Now age twelve, Ethan is increasingly curious about his past, especially his father's absence in his life. When he intercepts a letter to Claire from Mark, he opens a lifetime of feelings that, like gravity, will pull the three together again.

Relativity is a tender and triumphant story about unbreakable bonds, irreversible acts, and testing the limits of love and forgiveness.

Back in my school days I had to be given special permission to study all three sciences for my GCSEs (this was in the days when they were studied as Biology, Chemistry and  Physics and not grouped together as Science). However, Physics was my worst subject and to this day it remains a shock that I scraped a B! So I'm no Ethan and a quick flick through the chapter headings of Relativity gave me pause for thought - Time and Space were okay for this Whovian but Inertia? Entropy? Antimatter? Was this going to be a bit too science and not enough fiction?
The answer, I'm pleased to say is a categorical no! Relativity isn't actually a SF novel at all, it's actually a thoughtful and nuanced study of relationships, of how past events may shape the present but the truth can be twisted or hidden, and questions if forgiveness is possible. The story is told in the third person but different chapters focus on the three main characters, Ethan, Claire and Mark. Ethan is the heart of the book, he's immensely likeable, fiercely intelligent and yet still undeniably a child, and one who needs to learn the truth about his past before it engulfs him. Claire, his mother is a single parent, she is very protective of her son and at first it seems as though this is solely due to his intelligence marking him out as different from his peers and a target for bullies but as we slowly learn more about the truth of what happened to him as a baby we realise there is much more to the story. Mark, Ethan's father is a complex character who re-enters Ethan's life at a time when he is on the verge of adolescence and filled with questions about why he is like this, and what caused his dad to leave. As we slowly learn the shocking reasons for Mark's estrangement it would have been easy to portray his character as a monster but this is a much more complex novel and instead the book looks at how even the most heinous of acts aren't the whole story, guilt, fear, love and a desire to protect mean a more convoluted truth than the simple facts.
Antonia Hayes has written a powerful debut novel, I loved Relativity, it's a brave and honest look at complex issues, with a warmth that doesn't descend into sentimentality and doesn't shy away from discussing the violent and brutal but never feels gratuitous. Certain books stay with you long after you've finished reading them, Relativity will be one of those books for me.

Many thanks to the publishers for my advance copy received in return for my review. Relativity is published in the UK by Corsair and is available in paperback now.