I loved The Things We Promise, written by J C Burke. It has some of my favourite topics ever in it – teenagers, HIV, Degrassi High and the 90s. Gemma is getting ready for her formal and her brother, Billy, who is a famous hair and make up artist in New York is coming home to do Gemma and her friends’ hair and make up. Billy is also gay and HIV positive. The turmoil that this places the family in – Gemma, her single mother, as well as friendships, the community and the general fear that HIV/AIDS spread throughout the world in the 1990s.
The Things We Promise is a really good reflection and recollection of what life was like in the 1990s with the onslaught of HIV and AIDS on the gay and straight community – the isolation, fear, anger and discrimination that people and their families faced. The medical responses, and the way the disease takes over is also really well documented and narrated. The characters are well developed, with the naivety of Gemma who is only 16, and the ways they all deal with the illness differently is well described.
The Things We Promise appealed to me greatly. As a 40 year old who was involved in the gay community in the mid 1990s I saw the fear HIV/AIDS brought into the lives of people, as well as the community. I volunteered at the AIDS Council and found many parallels in the book to what I saw and experienced in real life. The book is set in the 1990s, so there is no technology, social media or reference to life now, so I wonder how appealing and relevant it would be to the young adult/teenage population that it is written for. Sadly the same messages of the 1990s and 1980s need to be reintroduced to the youth of today, with the rate of HIV/AIDS increasing in this population not just worldwide, but in Australia. I hope people read this book and can relate to it today and take the messages of safe sex, and early diagnosis to heart.
It’s a good read for people from my generation as well – a reminder of what we lived through then, and that not much has changed in many ways.