‘I Can Make this Promise’ by Christine Day is touching and diverse middle grade realistic fiction

i can make promise

“I Can Make this Promise” by Christine Day explores the emotional impact of finding out about one’s own heritage and culture, and at the same time shares a part of our history that is both shocking and horrifying. This book would be an excellent companion choice to Joseph Bruchac’s “Two Roads,” about Native Americans sent to “Indian School” and the discrimination suffered by Native Americans a century ago.

While this novel takes place in current times, because Edie finds out about her grandmother and reads the letters that the first Edith wrote in the 1970’s, we get both  historical and current perspectives of how Native Americans live — and are treated — in America.

Edie is twelve years old, and she has two best friends. But one of them, Amelia, has been acting strange. When Edie finds a mysterious box in her attic that has photos of a woman who looks an awful lot like Edie, Amelia thinks they should do some research and find out who this mystery woman is without telling Edie’s parents.

Edie knows that her mother is Native American, and that her mother was adopted by a white couple, the Millers, as an infant. Edie has an uncle she adores and loving parents. But her mother never wants to talk about her childhood, and Edie is afraid to talk to her about the box and what its mysterious contents mean.

The story works well for many reasons. Edie is a realistic pre-teenager. She is frustrated by her new braces, she’s frustrated by her friend’s behavior, and she’s frustrated that her mother won’t share anything about her heritage. But eventually, Edie comes to terms with all of her frustrations. She learns some very important lessons about friendship and comes to realize that people, like her former best friend Amelia, change. You can’t hold on to someone who doesn’t want to be your friend, and you should appreciate the good friends that you do have.

She also finds out about her (and her mother’s) heritage. It’s not a pretty story. It’s heartbreaking. And readers should be even more heartbroken when Edie’s mother explains, “Between the 1940s and the 1970s, about one-third of Native children were separated from their families.” Readers might rightly wonder: How could this have happened in our country? In America, the “Land of the Free”?

One aspect of the story that initially stumped me was the appearance of a friendly dog when Edie and her parents visit a reservation to watch fireworks being lit on the 4th of July. Edie spots the sweet dog wandering around and wants to help it. Her parents, without explanation, do not allow her to help the dog. That bothered me because on the cover is an image of the dog, and Edie really wants a dog. Day explains her decision not to have the dog saved and writes:

“Stray dogs (colloquially known as “rez dogs”) are fairly common in Native reservation communities. And in my mind, that’s who this dog was. I imagined him as a friendly dog who kind of belongs to the community at large, rather than a single owner. This is why Edie’s family doesn’t “save” him. Because her parents understand that he will be fine on his own. And because they are still in their overprotective phase. But since Edie doesn’t know what “rez dogs” are, and since she hasn’t found her way back to this larger community yet (she is still seeking some sense of identity, belonging, etc.), she views this moment as a rejection. To me, this interaction was meant to foreshadow the discovery of the box, and the miscommunications and hurt feelings that follow, between Edie and her parents. And it makes a big impression on Edie, who then turns to her artwork as a way to process her emotions, her questions, and her own sense of identity. But again, this is just how I thought of it. I’m open to other people’s interpretations!”

For those looking for diverse literature to spark important discussions, this would be a superb choice.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publicist for review purposes.

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