When Alice Ozma decided that she would let her dad read to her every night for 100 nights, she didn't realize that it would actually end up being every night for eight years, from the time she was 10 --- and her mom left them in the lurch --- until she went to college. THE READING PROMISE is a sleight, cute memoir of a young girl's relationship with her librarian dad and the many, many books that made their acquaintance during their life together.
Referred to as "The Streak," the book-reading extravaganza took them to places as far away and mystical as Oz, to Pooh Corner and Terabithia. But it took them even beyond that. There is a place that Ozma never names, but makes a case for by virtue of her passion for what they did, where she and her dad met that doesn't exist for all children and parents. It was a special place, like the Secret Garden, where they could hunker down, regardless of the horrible things going on in the world around them, and escape to the rich landscapes of their favorite literature.
For someone who loves to read, however, she misses out on a lot of really interesting stuff --- or they chose not to read it together, like the worlds of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott: authors whose works are an American gateway to a proto-young-feminist literature. However, Ozma does manage to devour all the Harry Potter novels (I still envy these children who have grown up with that iconic series), the Oz books and a nice selection of Judy Blume titles. The list at the back of the book is extensive, and yet it seems like not enough books for eight years of obsessive reading. THE READING PROMISE specifically deals with the titles Ozma and her dad read together, so I'm guessing that's why the list is what it is.
Ozma is a young writer who writes as if she is a character on "iCarly" or some other teen show. Having just graduated from college, her ability to see deeply into the situations around which she shapes her chapters (including her mother's leaving and getting stuck in a closet the day her father ran his school's most successful book fair) is limited by her age. Perhaps she could revisit this book when she has had a child of her own and they have a reading promise. That might help her gain some depth in her writing about these life-changing pieces of literature she digested, slowly and fully like a Thanksgiving meal.
I'm a sucker for all things "book" --- no Kindle or Nook for me. So Ozma's love of books, her need to feel and smell them as well as read them, makes me feel like I have found a kindred spirit. I'm sure many of you out there will feel the same way. Her girlish stories are sweet, but the impact her dad and his love of books made on her is unforgettable. Take a look at the list and see how many of the books in THE READING PROMISE have changed your life. I'm sure there will be at least a few.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on May 24, 2011