Review by Deb Czajkowski
Forty-year-old Alice and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Zoe, have always been a tight team of two and for good reason─make that two good reasons. The first is that Zoe has severe social anxiety disorder. The second is that they have no family or friends for a support system. Not that they’ve ever needed a support system. They’ve done fine, just the two of them. Until today.
Today Alice is diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer. And now she needs help: help for herself, getting her to appointments and treatments.
Hence, a social worker, Sonja, is assigned to Alice’s case. Part of Sonja’s role is to be Alice’s support person throughout her treatments. Out of necessity, Alice grudgingly agrees. The other part is to support the family. This part Alice refuses, claiming Zoe is fifteen and fine on her own for a few days. Skeptical Sonja stops by the apartment anyway to check on her. Unaware of Zoe’s disorder, Sonja misinterprets Zoe’s lack of eye contact and inability to converse with this stranger as evasive and secretive and calls in Child and Family Services, and a terrified Zoe is forced into foster care. Now Alice needs help for Zoe as well─to get her out of foster care!
Alice doesn’t remember much from that first, shocking doctor’s appointment, but she does remember Kate, the nurse who sat there with her and was so incredible kind to her. Still, Alice couldn’t be more surprised when Kate provides the solution to her Zoe concerns by offering to take Zoe into her own home while Alice is in the hospital.
So, out of necessity and despite these complications, this group of four forms a cohesive unit. But each of them carries a personal secret─four secrets that have the power to destroy.
Author Sally Hepworth’s powerful novel, a mother’s promise, is incredibly moving and simultaneously humbling. As the saying goes, if you don’t like the cross you are carrying, you can exchange it for another one. But, when you see how much bigger the other crosses are in the cross room, you hastily leave with yours, thankful your cross isn’t one of those. That’s how I felt as I read about Zoe, struggling daily with severe social anxiety; and Alice, diagnosed at age forty with ovarian cancer and staring death in the face while she makes plans─just in case!─ for her daughter’s future without her. Sincerely grateful for my comparatively small cross!
In a mother’s promise, Kate and Sonja also have crosses, situations that are painful and have the potential to devastate their lives and the lives of people close to them. The author exquisitely intertwines the lives of these four women─Alice, Zoe, Sonja, and Kate─giving them as a unit more emotional strength than they each have individually. Yet, just as it is in real life, just as we can’t phone in the work, just as no one can fix our problems for us, so also Alice, Zoe, Sonja, and Kate must first own their problems, and then reach deep inside themselves for the strength to overcome them.
One word of caution, though. If you’re looking for a book right now that is easy to put down, that you can read a chapter every now and then and it’s fine, this isn’t that book. a mother’s promise is a story that will capture your heart at the very beginning and hold it long after you’ve reached the end. I challenge you to read the first chapter today and tomorrow to tell me how many chapters you’ve already read. I promise you that when you’ve finished this book, you’ll thank me─and Sally Hepworth!
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