Looking around the table, Steffi sees pain, and grief, sadness and loss. And yet…and yet…there is love, and laughter, and life. – from Promises to Keep, page 336 –
Steffi is living in New York City, a thirty year old free spirit who cooks for a restaurant during the day and parties at night – jumping from one job to another, and finding all the wrong men. She couldn’t be more different than her sister Callie who is married to the perfect guy and is mom to two adorable children. Callie works as a family photographer and seems to have it all – love, family and success. When Steffi gets the opportunity to move closer to Callie as part of a pet-sitting job, she decides to try country life. She has no idea that over the next few months her life will be turned upside down when her beloved sister falls ill to a rare disease.
I have to admit – I picked up this book thinking it would be a light, easy “chick lit” kind of book. And it seemed to start that way. Jane Green quickly introduces the main characters: Mason, the publisher stuck in a dead-end marriage; Reece, Callie’s loving husband who travels constantly for his job; Honor, Steffi and Callie’s Bohemian mother; Walter, Steffi and Callie’s father who has never stopped loving Honor despite their divorce years earlier; Lila Grossman, Callie’s best friend who has finally found love; and, of course, Steffi and Callie who take center stage in the novel. But, as the story unfolds, it becomes much more than “chick lit.” Green gives her characters heart and authenticity – real emotion rolls from the pages, and I found myself growing anxious for the characters. I did not want anything bad to happen to them. I became worried for Callie. In the final pages, tears rolled slowly down my cheeks. These characters became real for me – not fictitious. It takes a talented writer to make a reader forget they are reading fiction, and that is what Green did for me.
The heart of this novel finds its roots in Green’s actual life. Last year her close friend Heidi lost a battle with breast cancer when she fell into the small percentage of patients who contract Leptomeningeal Carcinomatosis – a rare form of the disease which invades the central nervous system. The loss of Green’s friend was heartbreaking, but it taught her about love and life…and it was this journey through loss which gave Green the inspiration to write Promises to Keep.
Green includes recipes throughout the book – something that at first confused me. Why would an author insert recipes through a novel like this? But, eventually it began to make sense to me. Steffi is a chef – when she is sad or anxious or depressed, she cooks. When she wants to help someone, she makes them food. And food is one of those things that is nurturing not only to our bodies, but to our souls. Providing food for someone is a way of holding them up, comforting them, and showing love. And that is what this novel is about – being there for those you love, taking a painful journey through illness, giving comfort in times of need. Green’s decision to intersperse recipes through her story was a relevant and meaningful one, and something which ultimately gave greater depth to the novel.
This novel is about friendship, sisters, love, loss and moving forward through grief. It is about making hard choices. It is about growing up and finding oneself, even at age thirty or forty or seventy. I was tremendously touched by Callie’s story and her impact on those around her. This book was a pleasant surprise – far from being a “light” read, it ended up being one of those books which will stick with me for quite some time.
Readers who enjoy women’s fiction, novels about love and grief, and tender stories about family and friendship, will be drawn to Promises to Keep.
NOTE: Jane Green is donating 20% of her royalties from the sale of her book to breast cancer research.
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*FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.