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.
And so the story for The Promise Between Us is set, but what did I think?
Through her writing, Barbara Claypole White makes the pain of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) accessible. The facts of the condition (indeed conditions as other mental health illnesses are referred to as well) dominate the novel and, in my opinion, stifle the characterisation. It reads a little more like a helpful guide than a work of fiction. What Claypole White does though, possibly quite unintentionally, is give the mental health conditions character names and faces. She gives them a recognisable voice.
“OCD is so destructive, so twisted, so relentless, and yet there’s a popular misconception it’s about hand washing and the anal organisation of sock drawers.” (Barbara Claypole White, in her own words).
OCD (as I understand it) is not an urge or desire for a clean surface in the kitchen, folded sheets or lining tin labels up in the cupboard. It is a condition that, if given space, can take over. An inner critic that cannot be turned off. Intrusive thoughts that don’t just suggest the unimaginable but show the sufferer too. Claypole White brilliantly demonstrates this through sympathetic and moving writing. As her audience we are given full access to the thoughts running through Katie’s mind as well as her actions, and the distance between the two as she controls the voice she refers to as a “bully”. We also come to understand the strain this places on her daily life and relationships, and how it can be so easily misunderstood by those around her.
The characterisation may not be strong and the plot may be a little thin, but the power of what is achieved with this novel must not be underestimated. In so openly discussing the reality of the condition through the story, Claypole White gives strength to those who live with it and, hopefully, understanding to those who do not.
Critical acclaim for The Promise Between Us
“If you leave your newborn child because you have unstoppable thoughts of harming her, are you a good mother or a terrible one? This dilemma is at the heart of Barbara Claypole White’s novel, a wrenching story of how one woman’s OCD has a ripple effect on those around her—including the people she tried hardest to protect. This is an eye-opening and realistic exploration of mental illness—a topic that greatly deserves to be front and center.” – Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things
“Barbara Claypole White does not merely write about people with mental illness – she inhabits them…This brilliant novel about obsessive-compulsive disorder is compulsively readable.” – Lee Smith, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Girls
Where can you buy a copy?
More about the author:
Bestselling author Barbara Claypole White has created her own idiosyncratic niche in mainstream fiction: hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Originally from England, she writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina, where she lives with her family. Her novels include:
The Unfinished Garden, Mira Books, 2012, winner of the Golden Quill for Best First Book 2013; The In-Between Hour, Mira Books, 2014, chosen by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance as an Okra Pick; The Perfect Son, Lake Union, 2015, Goodreads Choice Awards Semi-finalist for Best Fiction; Echoes of Family, Lake Union, 2016, WFWA 2017 Star Award Finalist; The Promise Between Us, Lake Union, 2018. (View the book trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLW9XFo0nlg&t=5s)
Barbara is also an OCD advocate for the A2A Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes advocacy over adversity.
To listen to Barbara’s 2018 interview with Frank Stasio on The State of Things, click here: http://www.wunc.org/post/her-family-grapples-ocd-author-tackles-stereotypes-through-writing?fbclid=IwAR08E-DQ73f31jWBP2uKlix-eFsV7OOSQk_pXfS4uX3kqgnuHkbtVeB1Wvc
To watch Barbara’s 2018 interview with Linda Hurtado on Fox 13, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJUPUBZLCf8&t=33s
For more information on Barbara, please visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com
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N.B. Thank you so much to Barbara Claypole White for gifting me a copy of her book for this review, and to Rachel’s Random Resources for organising the blog book tour. All thoughts are my own. For more information, please see my disclosure page.