Thursday, August 16, 2012

Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock

Eleven year-old Roz (Rosalind) Anthony and her family have come to Mills River, Illinois to start over with the help of her grandfather and his new wife.  Settling in the new home and into a new job, all Roz's mother wants is a chance to put the memories of her abusive husband behind her and an opportunity to keep her children safe.  Roz's teenage brother Wally views the past and his probable future with a disdain and contempt that is typical of teenagers.  And baby Valerie is too young to realize all the changes that have happened, so it is only Roz whose heart is aching for the old life in Minnesota, the life with dad in it.  Or at least, she wants that life if she can erase the bad parts, so when she learns that her father has followed the family to Mills River, she agrees to keep his prescence a secret.  He promises that he has changed and will soon show the whole family the new sober person he's become. 

Roz is a wonderfully developed character with the true heart and insight of a child.  Her innocence and fragility play off Wally's sharp edges and mom's numbness.  Shortly after moving into their Mills River house, Roz finds an elderly woman on the porch. Tillie and her husband built this house fifty years previously and she lived in it until a fall forced her into the nursing home.  Even though her son has sold the house, Tillie sees the home as hers and doesn't want to leave. Since the family needs help caring for baby Valerie, Tillie moves in.  It is Tillie's faith and optimism (along with a genuine concern for the well being of America's future) that sustains this family through the months ahead.

Not only did Promises to Keep win a Christy Award, it was also chosen a Top Ten Historical Novel of the Year by Booklist magazine.  Tatlock's realistic portrayal of life in the early 1970's is certainly why the awards were given.  She captured the thoughts and concerns of life then, not just the outer trappings of clothes or fads.  At one point, Tillie voices her concerns about the country's future, a speech I am sure that was given in many older households in the 1970's.  However, it is Tillie's final comment that the peace-seekers will never know peace as long as they mock the only one who can truly give peace which makes her aside translate into an important truth for all times.

As I've already said, the richness of Roz's character comes in part from its contrast to the older, wiser Tillie.  Another dimension to Roz comes from her growing relationship with Mara, a young black girl in her school.  The 1970's setting with an integrated school, but not a fully integrated community, provides another authentic historical layer to the story, but more important the girls' friendships demand that there be more "promises to keep."  I leave you with the task of reading this title: get to know Roz and Mara and their secrets.  You'll be warmed by their youth and optimism, you'll worry about their possible disappointments, and you'll cheer as they mature with the help of good people God has placed in their lives.

 Check out Ann Tatlock's website to learn more about this book and her other writings.

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