Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review of He Belongs to Me by Theresa Rizzo

Rizzo, T. (2013).  He Belongs to Me.

He Belongs to Me chronicles the story of Catherine Boyd as she fights deceit at the hands of her own family in order to regain custody of her son Drew and deal with the painful secrets that have driven a wedge between her and her parents.

Catherine and her brother Andrew (her son's namesake) grew up in a wealthy, privileged family with everything that they could possibly want or need-except for their father's approval.  Stern, heavy-handed Eric Whittemore demanded perfection in everything from grades to sports.  Catherine struggled to win her father's love while Andrew rebelled.  Catherine's relationship with her mother Sarah lacked the usual mother-daughterly affection as Catherine sensed that her mother did not really care for her.  Andrew's tragic death as a teenager became yet another wave that caused the family to drift further apart and the circumstances surrounding his death were one more painful family secret.  Against her parents wishes, she married Thomas Boyd and when the young couple struggled to make ends meet, they moved in with her family.  Catherine gives birth to Drew and his twin Bobby, but when the twins are still infants, Bobby stops breathing and dies in what is apparently a tragic accident.  Thomas soon becomes the suspect in his death, aided by the accusations of none other than Sarah Whittemore.  After a brutal trial and an eventual acquittal, Thomas and Catherine separate.  She goes to college at Stanford and signs over what she thinks is temporary custody of Drew to her parents.  When she graduates and attempts to get him back, she is met with the cruel realization that her parents duped her into signing over permanent custody of her son. After consulting with an attorney, she realizes that reconciling with Thomas is the only chance that she has of winning a custody battle against her parents, since as the father, he never signed away his parental rights.  Thomas and Catherine must deal with the years of pain, anger, and guilt that lie between them, and Thomas must face his insecurity at being around children since Bobby's death.  Only then can they unite and fight against the formidable Whittemores, causing long-hidden secrets to come to light in the process.

Theresa Rizzo is a wife, mother, and registered nurse living in Colorado.  He Belongs to Me is her debut novel and her second novel, Just Destiny, is due out in March.  He Belongs to Me was a finalist in the 2013 USA  Best Book Awards-General Fiction Category. To learn more about her, check out the Q & A on the Author Interviews page of this blog.

He Belongs to Me is easily deserving of the awards and positive reviews that it has received since its release. Flowing prose, realistic dialogue, and dramatic confrontations between characters lend to the book's appeal.  The courtroom scenes are painfully well-written and illustrate the trauma that is endured by countless parents who find themselves fighting for custody of their children.  The relationship between Catherine and Thomas evolves slowly and beautifully from one of tense estrangement to one of rekindled love and romance.  The author's unique choice of plot is also appealing.  Many stories involving custody battles center around a father fighting for his child(ren) as conventional wisdom says that family courts favor mothers. However recent years have seen increasing numbers of women losing custody of their children and this phenomenon is one that is only sparingly explored in contemporary fiction.  Theresa Rizzo lends a compelling voice to this issue and handles the contentious subjects of family law and family secrets with talent and grace.

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