In the novel Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke, Owen and Annie Allen have been raised by their manipulative Aunt Eleanor in England ever since their parents died. Now Owen has trained himself as a gardener and is about to set off for a new life in New Jersey with their aunt and uncle on their father’s side. He can’t take Annie with him yet, which makes her furious. But he removes her from Aunt Eleanor’s house to a school until he can send for her.
As Owen gets ready to sail on the Titanic in a week, he meets a young street kid, Michael Dunnagan. Owen has compassion on him, shares his food, and gives him odd jobs until time to leave.
Michael picks up another job making deliveries to the Titanic. He muses that in a ship that size, he could hide away and escape from his abusive uncle.
Within just a few days at sea, Owen discovers Michael and takes him into his quarters. He shares his food as well as his plans and dreams to start a new life in New Jersey and send for Annie as soon as possible.
Then comes the fateful night the Titanic hits the iceberg. Owen sends Michael off with the women and children and wraps him in the jacket where he had sewn his precious seedling samples in the lining. Michael fights with everything he has to stay with Owen, but Owen insists and bodily pushes Michael to safety.
After a series of events, Michael finds his way to Owen’s aunt in New Jersey and tells her all that has happened. She takes him in and tells him about the trouble she faces which Owen had not yet heard. In their grief, they decide to try to make a go of Owen’s plans. Michael is determined to bring Annie home.
Annie is devastated, angry, and bitter, not only that Owen died, but that Michael lived instead. Back in Aunt Eleanor’s clutches, Annie finds herself responding in kind and becoming more like her.
When Michael first writes to Annie, she sends the letter back. But soon a tentative friendship begins. Annie trains as a nurse while she waits to go to NJ. And then WWI breaks out.
When I reviewed Cathy’s Saving Amelie, which became one of my top ten books of last year, I mentioned wanting to read more of Cathy’s books. A couple of people mentioned this story. When I discovered it was partially based on the Titanic, I planned to start it in conjunction with our visit to the Titanic museum.The book did enhance my visit and vice versa.
Cathy mentions in her afterword that there was a Titanic passenger named Owen Allum who was a gardener, but not much else was known about him. I enjoyed reading how she created his and Annie’s stories and what influenced her.
The Titanic section is just the first part of the book, however. I loved the example of laying down one’s life for another as Owen did. And then Michael and Annie each had to learn what it meant to love others and to receive love.
Some of my favorite quotes:
No matter what pain, what hard things come to us in life—and pain and trouble come to all of us—no matter what dark roads we walk or poor choices we make, it is not the end of the story.
It’s no good being fearful. Worry won’t change the future a whit, and it misses the joy of this glad day.
Each morning, when we wake—if we wake—we pick up whatever it is we’ve been given to carry for that day, with the sweet Lord Jesus in the yoke beside us to tote the load. Each night we lay it down, giving it into God’s hands. If it’s still there in the morning, we pick it up and begin again. If the burden is gone or if there is something different, we know where to start.
“Growing is a patient thing, lad,” Daniel explained. “You must give all living things time to adjust to their new surroundings, their new soil, then time to grow, as well.”
Does your hate make you happy, my dear, or does it continually eat through you, a cancer of its own making? Does the constant fueling of that angry fire not exhaust you and take away from living the wonderful life you’ve been given?
I loved the characters (including some not mentioned here) and the story. I loved how Cathy pulled us in to empathize with them in their anger, pain, and hope. Highly recommended.