The Things We Promise by J.C Burke

Powerful and an Absolute Tear Jerker

Book Summary
Gemma has been planning her formal from day one and all she cared about is looking great and hoping to catch the attention of the boy she liked. Her brother Billy, who is a renowned make up artist in New York had promised her that he will return home to do her make up for the formal. However nothing is what it seems and Gemma soon discovers the secret that her mum is hiding. Gemma learns about the deadly AIDS epidemic sweeping the world causing fear and intolerance. Gemma realises that her world is changing and it’s not as rose-tinted like before, she learns and navigates through her new experiences; new friendships were forged and old ones broken. “The Things We Promise” is a moving and heartbreaking story that tugs your heart strings.

The Reviews
This book is powerful and an absolute tear jerker, it’s a reminder of a not-so-long ago period where there’s a lot of discrimination and ignorance about AIDS and HIV. I happen to remember these times and it was horrific, the discrimination and isolation the sufferers have to endure is unimaginable. I felt the book was authentic to the times and the setting. It was a confronting time for many families. I liked the exploration of character growth, and the strength of love, family and friendship contrasting against a horrifying disease, and a divisive, ignorant and intolerant society. It was well written and an essential read so we can continue to improve as a diverse and loving society.
-NJ

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The Things We Promise is an impactful read. Set in Sydney, during 1990, this story highlights the AIDS epidemic. The story is from the perspective of a teenage girl and follows her in the lead up to her school formal. The countdown to the formal is Intertwined with her relationships with her friends and family. This includes her relationship with her brother and his partner. As history shows, this was a horrifying time for the LGBT+ community. This community faced discrimination at a time where AIDS was killing off entire friendship groups. I have seen that some other reviewers have had issues with the homophobic language in this book. This is a good thing. We should absolutely be horrified and offended by the derogatory language used by characters to describe LGBT+ characters in this book. We should be horrified because this happened. It is still happening. If the book didn’t use this kind of language it would be doing a disservice as it would downplay the discrimination of that time. I certainly remember hearing that kind of language in the late 90s. I imagine it was worse in 1990 when AIDS was on everyone’s mind. We should be offended by derogatory slurs. But at the same time it is important to not censor the past. Rather we should use this as a tool for discussion. Due to the topics discussed in this book it is not an easy read. It is painful to read about a time when a lot of people died and to learn about the hardships that these characters  faced. However, this story highlights a period of time that isn’t covered enough in literature. Especially in YA. The Things We Promise tells a story that shows how far we have come and still how far we have to go for true equality. It highlights the horrors of a disease which has killed millions of people worldwide. I think that it’s important that people read more books like The Things We Promise. So that we don’t forget the horrors of that time.
-Amanda

Curio Boutque special: designer swag inspired by the book

Special thanks to Allen and Unwin Publishers for sending us Review Copies in exchange for our honest review.

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My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Riveting read for those who like history with a twist!

My Name is Victoria is a sensational read about the young Queen Victoria in a fictional setting. It’s an interesting read that explores the young Queen’s life from when she was a young princess up to adolescence. I enjoyed the themes explored including friendship, loyalty, and selflessness. There are some twists and turns which did surprise me. I recommend this book for young readers who like history and learning about Queen Victoria’s struggles growing up in a royal household and fighting the “system” that she was born into. The chapters are set at different life stages of Queen Victoria as well as well known landmark settings like Kensington Place and Winsor Castle. I particularly liked the illustrations at the beginning of each section which depicts the setting of the story and the black silhouettes at the beginning of each chapter which gives the book a fairy-tale vibe. This book makes you want to learn more about the monarchy and the secrets behind what it is like to be royal. It’s a worthwhile, well researched and entertaining read!

– NJ

Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim

“Maybe in the nightfall, we will find the true light.”

A heart-rending story set in real-life dystopian history of China’s cultural revolution. A story of friendship, hope, and freedom.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Freedom Swimmer, I was attracted to this book initially because there weren’t many books written in English on the cultural revolution in China. During the revolution period of 1962-1976 people living in China had to use ration tickets in exchange for food, clothing and furniture. This was a period where family members turned against each other, teachers and business owners publically whipped and shamed for being “exploitative”, and young students recruited to the Red Guard to spread the words of Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao). Mao Zedong’s words and ideology brainwashed and manipulated a generation of young men and women, putting them through unimaginable suffering, separating them from their families and “re-educating” their ideals; in short, robbing people of their freedom to choose and think for themselves.

Freedom Swimmer is the first Young Adult (YA) novel I have come across that explores such a complex period in China’s history through the eyes of two 17-year-old boys (Li and Ming). Ming and Li questioned the suffering that they were made to witness and endure, coming to terms with the impact of the cultural revolution and famine on their family and friends. For a better life, they’ve decided to swim for freedom through shark-infested waters to Hong Kong. Ming and Li’s story is written with so much heart and soul; at times it was gut-wrenching. There were some truly heartbreaking moments that you just have to read for yourself. The themes of friendship, coming-of-age, love and hope contrast wonderfully against this real-life dystopian backdrop which made the characters highly relatable despite the story setting in a different time and culture. Freedom Swimmer was also inspired by the author’s father’s experience and his real-life freedom swim from China to Hong Kong. This is truly a notable and unique read if you’re after a book with depth and insight, or is interested in reading about a real dystopian period in recent history.  This book is highly relevant today given the issues concerning the plight of refugees/asylum seekers, as Ming’s father said to him in Freedom Swimmer –“it doesn’t matter where they’re from, all desperate men are the same.” I highly recommend this read!

– NJ

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

5 star read!

This book made me weep, it broke my heart, I glued it back but it would never be the same. The story is deeply moving from the beginning to the end, and the gut-wrenching atrocities of war, abuse, betrayal experienced by the protagonists would make anyone grateful and humble for the life they have. It is a heavy-read that takes you through a myriad of emotions (both good and bad), in this book you’ll also experience friendship, love and personal strength. You will learn much about the history and politics of Afghanistan and its impact on the people. Not for the faint-hearted. Be ready for a gut-wrenching, heart shattering read.

Click here to read the book blurb on Goodreads.

– NJ