Thursday, April 7, 2011

Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock

For those of you that are blog post skimmers (mmm-hmm I see you. *said in my teacher voice*) I had a difficult time writing this review because there was just so much I wanted to talk about. Any book that gets me thinking and discussing this much is, in my opinion, worth a read. So there you go.

Now here's the rest for people who read all of a post. ;)

The story of a young girl, told from her perspective, a crazy older woman, racism and violence and a secret might make you think you were reading literary classic To Kill A Mockingbird (one of my favorite books). I think that may have been what originally drew me to this story.

Set in 1967 in the fictional town of Mills River, Illinois we find our main character, eleven year old Rosalind 'Roz', and her two siblings (a younger sister Valerie and an older half-brother Wally) and their mom moving into their new home to start a new life after leaving husband and father (and step-father) behind in Michigan.

The home they move into was sold out from under an elderly town pillar named Tillie who decides she isn't ready to leave the home she built with her husband and she keeps showing up on their porch so that they eventually just decide to let her live with them - though she would have it that she decided to let them live with her.

The back of the book states the family is "fleeing unspeakable danger" and therein lies this family's problem (or plot device). The family chooses not to talk about the alcoholic and physically abusive man they ran away from. Can't you think about something more pleasant? is said a couple times. If this is an uncomfortable topic for you, consider yourself warned. The violence, however, is usually just hinted at with disconnected images though there are three fully formed violent/disturbing scenes in the book.

Disturbing things aside this book has some fantastic imagery and I think that is due to the story being told from an eleven year old's perspective. Her thoughts about the people around her - like her perfectly coiffed step-grandmother who doesn't really like kids - were glorious to read. It seems like most adults think children are stupid and write them as though they were much younger than they really are and I was really relieved to read a book where the children weren't infantile.  

A theme in the book is to not take seemingly insignificant moments for granted and there are a lot of fantastic "little" moments in this book. The pairing of elderly Tillie with young Roz makes for some interesting lessons and one of my favorites I'm just going to quote for you. Tillie was telling Roz how we should try to remember those wonderful things that happen because moments are often lost to memory.

Well, like the time I was pinning up the laundry on the clothesline out back, and the neighbor next door...had all her windows wide open, and she was playing a piece by Chopin on the piano. It was the most glorious thing. It was almost like being at Carnegie Hall, only better, because the open sky was my auditorium and I was the only one in the audience.

Loved that.

I have to say I actually found myself more interested in Roz's friend Mara, a bookish, complicated character who said, " am I going to be a great writer if I don't read important stuff?" A to the men, girl. Schools take note!

This book is full of complicated relationships and difficult topics and frustrated me plenty, but in the end it had some really beautiful moments and got me thinking a lot and was definitely worth my time to read.

This book was provided by Bethany House for the purposes of review, the opinions however, are entirely mine.


Laura said...

thanks for the review, I have so little time to read for my own entertainment that I really need the book to be worth my time. I love "To kill a Mockingbird" so I will have to check this one out.
So much fluff out there these days, a good book with great characters is hard to find. And yes I admit I am a real blog "skimmer".

cat said...

This is totally off my path when it comes to reading, but you have highly peaked my curiosity!!

theUngourmet said...

I have been wanting and needing to find a good book to read. Too much blogging...not enough reading! Thanks for the great review. I'll look for this one. :)