Premise: Ethan is an exceptionally smart 12 year old, with vast swathes of knowledge of physics and maths. He’s never known his dad, who left when Ethan was just a baby. But then odd things start happening to Ethan and his dad reappears, and the truth eventually emerges.
Thoughts: there were parts of Relativity that I liked. Child characters, especially precocious ones, can often be really off-putting, but Ethan isn’t; he’s believably gifted and convincingly naive, and the depiction of his gradual discoveries of his past is intriguing. From the title, you might guess that science plays a large part in the book; I am the least scientifically minded person on the planet so some of the physics went over my head, but the principles of Ethan’s newly discovered talents were interesting.
Ultimately, I developed some serious issues with Relativity, largely down to the backstory and both of Ethan’s parents. The presentation of Claire was a little cliched: she’s a single mum who gave up her dreams to raise Ethan alone, and forever blames herself for the terrible events that changed the family’s lives forever. It felt a bit hackneyed, but worse was the way in which Ethan’s estranged father was portrayed. I soon found myself really, really hating him, which I don’t think is the point. The whole plot involves him and a terrible thing he may or may not have done; this isn’t mentioned in the synopses I’ve read and, if it was, I honestly don’t think I’d have read the book. I didn’t like how the book seemed to be pulling sympathy towards him. It just all made me feel quite uncomfortable.
In Conclusion: if you know what you’re getting going into Relativity, and troubles families a la Picoult are your thing, this book won’t trouble you as much as it did me. My personal philosophy of right and wrong is very rigid (obviously because I am perfect and all my actions are beyond reproach) which meant the moral dilemma at the heart of the book was an easy call for me, rather than something I agonised over along with Claire and Ethan.