Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Book Review and Giveaway: The Lives Between Us
Writing about politics is supposed to be the kiss of death for authors. Apparently readers just aren’t that interested and these books won’t sell. I don’t know who made up that rule and I don’t agree. Stories sell books, and politics shapes stories. In women’s fiction especially, politics is personal. When politicians want to have a say about the most basic decisions people make in their lives, it creates drama and conflict – the back bone of story telling.
Author Theresa Rizzo has followed up her “conception after death” novel, Just Destiny, with another gripping read mixing the personal and political. In Just Destiny, Jenny Harrison fights a court battle with an in-law for the right to inseminate herself with her dead husband’s sperm. The Lives Between Us (in which Jenny appears in a minor role) is also concerned with the products of conception. In this case, though, it’s the moral and religious question of whether embryos should be used for medical research and treatment – specifically, the embryotic stem cells that some scientists believe can help a broken body heal itself.
Reporter Skylar (Skye) Kendall has a nine-year-old niece, Niki, whom she adores. Niki is in the hospital with a failing heart, and Skye and her parents believe that stem cell treatment will cure the girl … if only they can find a match. But stem cell donations are not catalogued, and research on them is being stymied by politicians like Senator Edward Hastings, who is morally opposed to anything that might lead to the destruction of an embryo. Faith, Niki’s mother, almost died of pre-eclampsia when pregnant with Niki. She and her husband Peter tell Skye they have a plan to save their daughter. But six months later, Niki is dead of a heart attack. Faith is pregnant with twins, a pregnancy that could kill her, and Skye blames Senator Hastings for her family’s pain. She shows up at his televised press conference and attacks him for his stand against research: “Don’t you think it’s unfair to force your personal religious beliefs on the rest of us?”
Not only does Skye put her job in jeopardy, her appearance at the press conference piques the curiosity of Edward’s best friend, Mark Dutton, who just so happens to be in the stem cell business. Mark and Skye have a coincidental meeting, and he’s immediately drawn to her. They begin dating, and Mark is stuck with the dilemma of when to tell Skye that the man she hates is his best friend.
The Lives Between Us is a hugely ambitious project, and an appropriate follow up to Just Destiny. It’s clear that author Rizzo has done an enormous amount of research on the issues driving her story. And her characters are all very well-versed in the political and medical aspects as well. In fact, they were all too well-informed; she was missing the naïve character who could stand in for the reader and let the writer directly explain, for example, the benefits of cord blood or the differences between adult and embryotic stem cells. I’m interested in scientific research and try to stay current on these issues, but I’m a lay person and I did get lost several times.
More broadly, though, the biggest problem I had with "Lives" was its structure. (I also found structural issues with Just Destiny.) By killing Niki off so early, Rizzo denies herself the most obvious plot for the book – a race against time to convince (or blackmail) the one Senator who is keeping a dying girl from getting the experimental medical treatment she needs. And without a bill in the Senate, Skye doesn’t have a specific goal in dealing with Hastings – just a vendetta. It doesn’t give away too much to reveal that Skye learns of Mark and Edward’s friendship early on in the book, so that dilemma is resolved relatively quickly.
Rizzo extends her story by incorporating many other points of view in addition to Skye’s. As a result, Edward’s story dominates the book far more than Skye’s does. And Rizzo goes to Herculean lengths to justify Edward’s stance by revealing tragic back story after tragic back story. An ironic plot twist should force Edward to question his beliefs, but Rizzo avoids that by turning the last section of the book into a thriller and keeping decisions and actions out of Edward’s hands.
Even with its flaws, the book is a page-turner (or, in my case, a Kindle-tapper.). While the plot twists don’t organically follow from the story’s original concept, they are good twists and keep the story centered around the topic of stem cells, if not focused on the protagonist’s goal.
With her use of multiple protagonists, Rizzo creates characters who have strong reasons for their personal beliefs. In doing so, however, she avoids Edward having to search his soul to answer Skye’s question from the beginning of the book: “Don’t you think it’s unfair to force your personal religious beliefs on the rest of us?”
That’s the question at the heart of personal versus political. And it can’t be answered, because one side’s “personal religious beliefs” is the other side’s “truth.” I expect Rizzo will continue to explore these issues in her upcoming books, and I look forward to reading more of them.
Thanks to Theresa Rizzo for the book in exchange for an honest review. She has one e-book of The Lives Between Us for a lucky reader anywhere in the world!
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Worldwide. Giveaway ends July 7th at midnight EST.