'I Can Make This Promise' by Christine Day is a new juvenile fiction middle-grade novel that has some great family history themes, so I thought I'd write about it on the blog today.
Edith (Edie) is a happy 12yo girl living in the Seattle area, who loves to draw and hang out with her two best friends. One day, while exploring the attic, they stumble upon an old, tattered box, and inside that box is a photo of a beautiful woman who looks just like Edie. Not only that, but also within the box are old letters signed by a woman named 'Edith,' apparently Edie's namesake. All Edie knows about her mom is that she is Native American and that she was adopted as a baby. The discovery of this box and its contents makes Edie want to know more about her family history, especially this mysterious woman in the photo.
At first, Edie keeps her discovery of the box a secret from her parents, but tries, in subtle ways, to get them to answer some questions about the past. It doesn't go well, at first, but then there is one conversation between Edie and her mom that really resonated with me:
Edie asks, "You never tell me stories from when you were growing up."
And her mom's reply is, "That's because I never wanted you to feel sorry for me."
And, for me, it was like a light bulb clicked on. THIS. This was a large reason why so many people do not want to tell the story of their lives. I think I always just assumed it was because they didn't want to relive the pain of the memories, and, while this is indeed the case for many people, it's not the whole story. We do not want our life experiences to elicit pity from others.
And it got me thinking - Do we do this too much within the family history community? Do we inadvertently reinforce the shame placed on our family members (by society, religion, or other people) by feeling sorry for a person? I think we do to some extent, but many of us don't even realize we are doing it.
People don't want you to feel sorry for them or their lot in life. They want you to see the person, not the circumstances. I will be thinking on this for a long time, as it relates to my family history and my own history.
I won't tell you how this novel ends, but I will say there is some closure for Edie, as well as an awakening, as far as learning more about her family's past and about who she is.
This novel helps to fill a void that exists in juvenile literature with respect to Native stories being told by Native authors. Christine Day is a member of the Upper Skagit tribe of the Pacific Northwest. Again, I won't elucidate on the details of this story, as to avoid spoilers, but I'll just say that, with this novel, she brings to light fairly recent history (1940s-1970s) that literally tore Native families apart. If I could convince every adult I know to read this story, I would, because you WILL learn things that you never learned in school (and that may have been happening while you WERE in school). And you will find that the circumstances described in this book are still happening on American soil today.
You can read more about and order 'I Can Make This Promise' at THIS LINK. A portion of the sale proceeds come back to help maintain the Growing Little Leaves website.
©2019 Emily Kowalski Schroeder. All opinions are my own.