Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie. Nine years ago she ran away from her family in Raleigh, North Carolina, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her, and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.
But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?
To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibility of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.
What I Thought:
I’ve read Barbara Claypole White’s work, reviewing The Perfect Son some time ago, and The Promise Between Us is another excellent novel where the uncomfortable truth of mental ill-health is laid bare.
One of my big bugbears in the media and society, is the flippant use of OCD as a term for people who are a bit particular or hygiene-conscious when in actual fact, and as this book depicts, it is a serious and debilitating mental illness.
At first starting this book, it’s tough to put yourself in Katie’s shoes as her fears for her daughter – or that she might harm her daughter – come to a head as part of Post-Partum OCD, but as we follow her several years later, Barbara Claypole White puts us right inside her head as her intrusive thoughts rise up and she tries to keep them at bay.
What I liked about The Perfect Son is also evident in this book – a real understanding of the complexities of good or bad mental health and no quick fixes to round off the book. Katie is at great pains to point out that, although she has her OCD under some semblance of control, she still has it and will always have it. Help, support and treatment may keep the condition bubbling under, but it will never go away. I feel that this is a fundamental misunderstanding with most mental health conditions – sure, the symptoms may appear to be gone, but the condition is always there.
This book is told from a number of voices, all of whom, have a large part to play in the story and whose reconciliations and forgiveness go some way to rebuild a broken family and the broken lives of the main characters. I think my favourite was Maisie – a hugely intelligent child, with a beautiful personality, she has no-one to talk to when the stinky inside voice begins to make her doubt her world. Although reconnecting with Katie could make things worse, it’s so powerful to read her thoughts on that and be with her in her struggle to stop the voice.
Although clearly this book has been written with a wealth of research, I think what lends it more credence is Barbara Claypole White’s familial experience of OCD. She speaks quite openly about her husband’s and son’s own struggles with OCD and has had the benefit of her son as a beta reader to help show the realities of living with this condition from a really authentic place. It’s quite upsetting at times to think of how exhausting these intrusive thoughts are, and how utterly draining an everyday life with OCD must be.
Despite my comments re the mental health aspects of this story it is, at the heart of it, a family story too and one which has a lot of heart and is incredibly gripping as an unusual family unit tries to mend. It’s definitely worth picking up a copy.
The Promise Between Us is published by Lake Union Publishing.
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Please Note: I received a copy of this book through Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.