'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 5 March 2017

Review: The Things We Promise

The countdown begins as 16-year-old Gemma is excited about the most significant event, 33 weeks away, her Year 11 formal. Her brother Billy, an up and coming make-up artist based in New York has promised to come home and make her look amazing for her big night.

It's all Gemma and her best friend can talk about. But then Gemma learns her family are keeping secrets and her insulated life is shattered.

Without giving too much away, Gemma's world is touched by the AIDS pandemic sweeping the world. The weeks to the formal are whizzing by and Gemma's life becomes usurped by life-altering events, as she tries to find meaning in life and confronting situations. At the same time, friendships are tested and the most support comes from unexpected people.

Diverse, rich characters pander for attention in the first few chapters until you easily become enveloped by each one as they wrap themselves around you in a warm embrace. The multi-layered characters stand out and just keep giving until you know them so well you can see them and hear their voice. Not many YA novels can manage this so well.

There's also a great use of flashbacks, tension, conflict and sorrow. I reached for the tissues more than once. Largely due to circumstance, there is a clear line that Gemma crosses to become more mature and reflective and wiser by the end of the novel. Her strength of character rises above the petty thoughts she initially believed and the formal is no longer the most important thing in the world.

JC Burke portrays friendship issues in a realistic light showing how friends can bring you joy and sadness. Burke also nails teen behaviour and dialogue (with a sprinkle of humour) and it's through great dialogue that the characters become fully fleshed. Gemma is a great protagonist. She's innocent, loving, fearful, brave, strong and a deep thinker.

An excellent and impressive depiction of the divisive and frightening time when AIDS first appeared on the social, political and personal landscape. An outstanding portrayal of an AIDS hospital ward and the heartbreaking suffering, humiliation, loneliness, prejudice and fear experienced by AIDS patients whilst being cared for and supported by devoted staff.

The 80s are represented exactly as I remember, albeit it with a stark reminder of how much less technology some of us grew up with. It was nostalgic remembering songs, bands, fashion, stars and events of the time.

JC Burke is the author of a number of acclaimed books for teenagers including CBCA Notable Books.

Title: The Things We Promise
Author: JC Burke
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, $19.99
Publication Date: 22 February 2016
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760290405
For ages: 15+
Type: Young Adult