The Mother's Promise
Last year, I discovered the writing of Sally Hepworth. I adored her novel The Things We Keep, so I was over the moon to learn she had a new book coming out. I was sure I was in for a very intense read, full of emotional depth and characters I could totally relate to, and that’s exactly what she has delivered in her new novel, The Mother’s Promise.
Alice and her teenaged daughter Zoe have been a team of two pretty much forever. Zoe’s father isn’t in the picture at all, and Alice has no family to speak of, so the two of them are quite the insular unit. Zoe has dealt with severe social anxiety since she was a young child, and Alice has devoted her life to protecting her daughter from the world. But when Alice is diagnosed with cancer, everything changes. Alice struggles to figure out what will happen to Zoe when she is no longer around to care for her, while Zoe herself is unable to fathom a world without her mother in it.
Knowing she and Zoe need help, Alice reaches out to Kate, her oncology nurse, and Sonja, her social worker. Both women are basically strangers to Alice, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and Alice needs to find stability for Zoe before it’s too late. Unfortunately, both Kate and Sonja are dealing with their own family problems, problems that affect Alice and Zoe in ways none of them could have previously imagined.
Kate always wanted to be a mother. Sure, she has a wonderful husband and two great stepchildren, but she still feels a void she’s sure only a baby can fill. She and her husband have tried everything, including very expensive and emotionally draining fertility treatments – but to no avail. Kate has suffered several miscarriages, and now, her husband tells her he doesn’t think they should try again. In hopes of distracting herself from her own grief, Kate strikes up an unlikely friendship with Zoe. She finds herself consumed with thoughts of the girl and her terminally ill mother, and takes steps to help them. Kate doesn’t always make the right decisions, but her heart is in the right place, something Alice comes to realize as time passes. Initially threatened by Zoe’s relationship with the nurse, Alice soon understands that Kate and her husband are in a unique position to help Zoe once she is gone.
Sonja is a middle-aged social worker, married to a world-renowned child psychologist. Every day, she convinces herself she’s happy – she isn’t poor anymore, she has a job that should fulfil her, and her husband means she’s the envy of all her friends and associates. But things aren’t nearly as good as they seem on the outside. As she comes to know Alice and Zoe, Sonja must confront some deeply disturbing truths about the life she’s chosen for herself, and in the end, is forced to make some really unenviable choices.
I think Zoe is my absolute favorite character in this book. As someone who has suffered terrible anxiety for over thirty years, I was able to identify with her on a number of levels. I admired her strength and determination, even in the face of her fears. She’s a little immature at the beginning of the novel, but she makes amazing strides as the story continues.
People are often miraculously cured in today’s fiction, and I can never feel completely at peace with those kinds of endings. I like my stories to be true-to-life, and miracle cures are rarely a part of reality, so the fact that Ms. Hepworth doesn’t employ this plot device is a definite point in her favor. This is a very intense novel, filled with a lot of pain and heartbreak, which may make it difficult for some people to read – but I urge you all to give it a try. Ms. Hepworth is a gifted writer who makes her readers care about her characters and the issues they’re forced to deal with, those that turn out in their favor and those that do not.
My one complaint is with Sonja’s storyline. Without giving the big reveal away, I’ll say I found her presence in Alice’s and Zoe’s life a little too pat and coincidental. Also, her overly brusque way of dealing with people makes her a difficult character to fully support. True, not all social workers give off massive amounts of the warm fuzzies, but Sonja’s coldness is very hard to take at times, especially considering she is supposed to be making things easier for Zoe and Alice.
I recommend The Mother’s Promise to anyone who loves books revolving around themes of family. Just be sure to have plenty of tissues on hand, as it’s sure to make the tears flow.