In Ann Tatlock’s novel, Promises to Keep, eleven-year-old Roz Anthony has just moved with her mother, older half-brother, and younger sister to a small town in Illinois in the 1960s. Roz’s mother, Janis, was compelled to leave her abusive husband, and her father helped set her family up in a new home.
After just a few days, though, they found a stranger sitting on their porch, reading their newspaper. She was a rather large older woman named Tillie Monroe, and she said this was her house. She had helped build it with her own two hands along with her husband, and no matter what the paperwork said, it was her house. All she wanted was to die in her home, but she had fallen and broken her hip, and her kids whisked her away to a nursing home. But now she’s better, and she wants to live in her own home
About that time, Tillie’s son drives up, apologizes profusely, and takes his mother back to the nursing home.
But a few days later, Tillie is back on her . . . er, their porch. Janis invites her in for coffee. Another time Janis comes home to find Tillie cooking dinner for them.
This happens so often that Janis is relatively sure that Tillie is safe and invites her to stay. The relationship is mutually beneficial as Tillie watches the children and helps out around the house while Janis works.
While Roz adjusts well to all the changes and even provides a humorous narration, she misses her father. She tries to focus on the good memories, but the bad ones creep in. She feels if her father could just stay the good dad and leave off the Dr. Jekyll bad side, they could all be together again.
Meanwhile, Roz faces a new school with trepidation. But she finds a friend in a black girl named Mara. She soon learns that Mara has her own daddy issues, secrets, and dreams. They girls decide together to pray for their secret dreams.
Though the family was healing and readjusting after all they had been through, the first part of the book seemed lighthearted and fun as the family interacted with Tillie and as Roz observed and processed her world. One sub-plot line could have worked out for good or bad, and Ann reeled out the tension and information skillfully. The dramatic climax was a surprise to me — I was expecting something, but not what happened.
I’ve enjoyed all of Ann’s books that I’ve read so far, but this will be a favorite. Roz and Tillie are a couple of my favorite characters.