Beth, Sally, and Carol have been friends since their high school days. True, Carol has been distancing herself from the other two for the past few years, but Beth still considers her to be one of her very best friends in part because of the dark secrets the three of them share.
Thirty years ago, the three teenaged girls did something terrible, something they all promised to keep between themselves. Now though, their former school is closing, and Beth has reason to suspect their secret might be revealed. She wants to come clean, but she’s reluctant to do so without first talking things over with Carol, but Carol seems to have disappeared.
Desperate to find her missing friend before it’s too late, Beth hires a private investigator to assist in the search. Sally isn’t nuts about the idea, but she goes along with it just to keep the peace. However, it soon becomes clear to both women that something very strange is going on with Carol, and finding her could put them and those they love in serious danger.
AAR reviewers Shannon Dyer and Lisa Fernandes got together to discuss The Promise, and are here to share their thoughts.
Shannon: I read a lot of thrillers and I’m always on the lookout for more dark, creepy books, so I thought The Promise had a great deal of potential. What drew you to this story, Lisa? Are thrillers like this part of your normal reading fare, or is The Promise something new for you?
Lisa: I read a fairly steady diet of thrillers too. I love stories about teenagers committing Atrocious Acts (Heathers is one of my favorite movies) and I have a fondness for close female friendship and deep dark secrets. The blurb definitely drew me in.
Shannon: Most of the story is told from Beth’s point of view, with small portions slipped in from other perspectives. I found Beth quite relatable and the most likable of the three friends, but I didn’t always trust her perception. She’s a little too self-involved at certain points in the story, and this made it difficult for me to feel as though I was getting to know the other characters. Did you find her a trustworthy narrator, or were there things that called her reliability into question?
Lisa: I felt for Beth, and liked her the most. In a field littered with mostly unreliable narrators, she was the one I trusted the most, even though she was indeed selfish, especially in trying to make sure the secret stayed fully hidden. She was just trying to keep it together, just trying to deal with the burden of the shared secret without giving in to her barely-buried panic and PTSD. She was the best choice for narrator, being the one with the least to hide – although I’d have liked more chapters from Sally’s PoV.
Shannon: Let’s talk about Sally for a bit. It’s obvious from the beginning of the story that she’s had a lot to deal with in her life. Beth seems to feel kind of protective toward her at first, but as things escalate, that protectiveness appears to wane and Beth grows frustrated with some of Sally’s choices. I found Sally difficult to like. She was too whiny for my taste, and I wanted to see her step up and take responsibility for the things she did wrong, but she didn’t seem capable of doing so. How did Sally’s character work for you?
Lisa: Sally was, IMO the classic hard-to-wrangle loose cannon coping badly with what she’d been through – she acted out against her trauma in a different way than Beth but was still believable. Sometimes I think her fragility was used as almost a way to stretch out the plot to fit the page-length, and a little frank discussion between them would’ve mitigated some of the plot-silliness going on.
Shannon: I would agree with that. Sally’s fragility was understandable at certain points in the story, but I’m not sure Ms. Driscoll needed to take it as far as she did. The quest to find Carol is one of the most important plot points of the story. There were times I felt it took precedence over the actual crime the girls committed in their teenaged years, which gave the story an uneven feel. I found myself wondering if the author was trying to squeeze too many elements into one story.
Lisa: The worst part about the Carol storyline was that I’d easily guessed where she was hiding out, and what she was doing. I agree that there was too much of it, and the book took far too long to settle into giving us flashbacks of what exactly happened. I cared and didn’t want her suffering, but I also wanted to know what had bound Carol, Sally and Beth so closely together in the first place!
Speaking of all three women, their sisterhood was believable in places, but sometimes felt ludicrous, especially because neither Beth nor Sally talked to Carol for years
Shannon: I found their connection more believable when they were younger, since they were in constant contact then. They rarely saw or even spoke to Carol as adults, so I struggled to fully buy into Beth’s assertions that Carol was one of her closest friends. The relationship between Beth and Sally was more believable since they were each a regular part of the other’s life.
Buried secrets is a theme that runs through the novel from beginning to end, with almost most every character having something to hide. It makes for a compelling mystery, but I’m not sure how realistic it actually is. I mean, we all have certain things we choose to keep to ourselves, but most of us don’t have the kind of secrets these people were dealing with. Did this feel realistic to you?
Lisa: Oh, it definitely wasn’t realistic – not much of the book honestly was, including the girls’ ultimate crime – less the thing that happens but how they hide it. But I was fine with suspending my disbelief and going along with the pretty wild ride this time, though some of those secrets were ludicrous.
Shannon: I find the whole miscommunication thing quite common, not just in books like this one, but in today’s fiction in general. We see it in romances on a pretty regular basis. It’s a plot device that isn’t always my favorite, but I understand why the author chose to employ it here.
Lisa: Another strong theme in the book is motherhood. Without spoiling anything, how did you feel about the girls’ relationship with it, and the way that connected back to the nuns who took care of them?
Shannon: All three women had very complicated feelings about motherhood. Sally and Carol both really wanted to be mothers, while Beth had children but seemed pretty distant from them. As I read, I found myself wondering if their relationships with their own mothers colored their perceptions of motherhood, and I do think their experiences with the nuns played into it as well. Despite the large number of women in their lives, there wasn’t a strong mother figure to be found.
Lisa: Compare that to how they reacted to any new girls who entered the picture and came close to piercing the union between the three of them, and there’s definitely a whiff of girls-without-guardianship going on. The nuns seemed to realize that and found them to be calming influences on ‘wild’ girls – seemingly ignoring what was lurking under the surface of it all. It was fascinating.
Shannon: When Matthew first entered the story, I’ll admit to wondering why he was necessary. I worried he would further complicate the already busy plot, but I ended up being quite pleased with the role he played. How did you feel about Matthew? Did his presence add something to the story, or did you find him a bit extraneous?
Lisa: Matthew was another of my favorite characters, and I found his secret to be the most compelling! I rooted for his healing more than that of our three main characters, and I don’t know what that says about the narrative. Someone was needed to weave all of the threads together and he was pretty good for that, and good as a love interest of One of The Girls.
Shannon: I want to talk about the big reveal. I had some of it figured out, but there were a few things that seemed to come out of nowhere. Obviously, plot twists are an important part of psychological thrillers, but they need to feel organic in order to work for me. Some authors invent twists for the sole purpose of shocking the reader. Do you think Ms. Driscoll fell into that trap, or did the twists she used work for you?
Lisa: Now we’ve come to the part of the book that annoyed me the most. I had most of the Big Secret pieced together by the time it dropped, and I bought what it was. You know what I didn’t buy? The way it turned out that it wasn’t a big deal after all, because someone else had already handled the details of the crime WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE. That forced a shift to clearing out other plot elements that again, exist just to pad out the page count. It felt like the author was playing for time and decided to pad things out with twists that didn’t work.
Shannon: What’s your final grade? I’m giving it a solid B. It’s not the best book of its type I’ve read this year, but it definitely isn’t the worst either. Despite its flaws, the story kept me fully engaged, and I came away from it with a feeling of contentment.
Lisa: I’m going just a notch below you with a B-; those twists really are bad and distract from a fairly taut mystery.