With 33 weeks until the formal, Gemma and her best friend, Andrea, are focussed on planning their looks for this event. Gemma’s brother, one of New York’s ‘up-and-coming’ hair and makeup artists, has promised to come back to do their hair and makeup for the formal. This will be Gemma and Andrea’s chance to shine, and they are determined to do everything they can to maximise the impact.
Despite her pre-occupation with the formal, Gemma starts to get the feeling something isn’t right. Her mother keeps making long mysterious phone calls behind closed doors and is unusually moody. Then her brother turns up unexpectedly without his partner. As Gemma starts digging for information, the things she uncovers push the thoughts of the formal to the back of her mind. She changes gear into survival mode as she and her family face some incredibly tough issues and the direction of their lives changes considerably.
This book is set in the early 1990’s and portrays the AIDs and HIV discrimination that was pandemic in that era. Some of the language used is offensive. Sadly, it reflects language and attitudes that were common in the era. Burke uses the language to highlight the fear and ignorance that surrounded AIDs and HIV, and the way people with these illnesses were treated at a very vulnerable time in their lives.
The Things We Promise is an interesting look back to the 1990’s. It is also a thought-provoking story about discrimination and the impact of chronic illness on an individual, their family and their immediate network. I didn’t know much about this book when I started reading and it was different to what I expected. Although I found myself anticipating some of the key twists, as I read I was frequently surprised by events. There was a good balance of a believable sequence of events and the element of surprise. I enjoyed reading The Things We Promise and appreciate the way it broadened my perspective.