Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Book Review: Just Destiny
Not so long ago, there was only one way to make babies, and since we’re all adults here, I don’t have to describe it. But that all changed in 1978 with Louise Brown, the first test tube baby. Since then, millions of lives have been created in ways slightly more complicated than boy meets girl, etc. And these new technologies have opened the door to controversies that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago: What to do with frozen embryos whose parents do not want more children? Should doctors continue to implant numerous embryos in the hopes that one or two will grow, knowing that if more are successful it could harm all the fetuses? Should children conceived from donated sperm be told who their donors are?
Jenny Harrison, heroine of Theresa Rizzo’s Just Destiny, is concerned with a more basic pregnancy-related issue: the accidental one. She and her husband, Gabe, hadn’t planned on having children. Gabe’s older than Jenny, with an ex-wife and two teenaged children. He’s done. So when the line turns pink, she doesn’t know how to tell him. During a bike ride, she pressures him to change his mind about parenting. He doesn’t. The discussion turns into an argument, and Jenny is so rattled she almost rides into the path of an SUV. Gabe pushes her out of the way just in time … and the SUV hits him instead. At the hospital, he’s declared brain dead … and the stress is so overwhelming, Jenny miscarries. When she’s approached about donating Gabe’s organs, Jenny asks the harvester to obtain Gabe’s sperm as well. She wants another chance to have her husband’s baby.
Although Gabe’s ex-wife Judith is surprisingly supportive of Jenny’s decision, Gabe’s Uncle George – who raised Gabe after his parents died when he was 12 – is horrified. When he can’t change Jenny’s mind, he goes to court to try to stop her. Jenny needs a lawyer, but her first choice – her and Gabe’s best friend and next-door neighbor Steve -- refuses to take the case. Although Steve is engaged to Annie, he’s been in love with Jenny for years, and can’t support her decision.
Just Destiny brings up several legal and moral issues in ways that evolve naturally from the characters. George is convinced that Gabe never would have wanted a child of his to be raised by a single mother. Steve is torn between his feelings for Jenny and his desire to help her win her case. Jenny is forced to lie about her and Gabe’s relationship in order to present the best case in court. And the writer does not shy away when it comes to describing the procedure for obtaining sperm from a brain-dead patient, which brings up the question of consent. As the case develops, additional ethical questioned are raised as more of George’s actions come to light.
I was engaged with the book from the very beginning, but I did find problems with structure. It begins with a prologue from Steve and Annie’s points of view, giving the impression that the story was about them. There are problems with points of view, characters who simply disappear, and a major back story plot point that is casually revealed halfway through the book – something that goes a long way to explaining character motivation, and should have been revealed much earlier. Furthermore, I had questions about the court case that were never answered – why did Uncle George have legal standing to bring the case to begin with?
Still, Rizzo is a talented writer and Jenny is a heroine that readers will root for – although some may not want her to have a relationship with Steve, who comes across as incredibly self-centered as the story plays out. I personally found the “will they or won’t they” aspect of the book to detract from the main plot rather than enhance it.
Just Destiny should be an appealing read for fans of Jodi Picoult, who often crafts engaging stories featuring characters grappling with modern ethical dilemmas. Priscille Sibley’s The Promise of Stardust, which is also about pregnancy after brain death and a resulting court case, is also recommended for readers intrigued by this premise.
Thanks to Theresa Rizzo for the book in exchange for an honest review. The prequel, Just Beginning, was released this past month in paperback.