The Mother's Promise
After reading Sally Hepworth’s THE THINGS WE KEEP in 2016, I discovered a newfound love for good tearjerkers --- books that truly tug at my heartstrings and make me consider all of my relationships in a new light. Since then, I have dabbled in books by Hepworth’s contemporaries, but I must say, no one writes devastatingly beautiful fiction like her.
In THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, Hepworth takes a close look at three very different women (and one young lady), each struggling with an emptiness or loneliness in her life. Although they are all at different stations in life, each woman possesses a keen desire for love and understanding that ties them all together in a powerful yet utterly believable way.
At the start of THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, we meet Alice Stanhope and her 15-year-old daughter, Zoe. The two are best friends with an understanding of one another that transcends even the most powerful bonds between mother and daughter. Alice runs her own business caring for the elderly, but she is otherwise unsuccessful --- in love, family and friendships. Zoe, meanwhile, is grappling with all of the normal woes of teenagerdom combined with a nearly crippling case of social anxiety disorder. Things like walking through her high school cafeteria or even greeting a friend in the hallway inspire in her a level of fear equal to that of a person running from a bear or angry lion.
"I cannot, in good conscience, say that THE MOTHER’S PROMISE is a happy story, but its exploration of emotion and the human psyche will certainly warm your heart.... Hepworth writes characters who feel like old friends and extended family members; you cannot help but love them, even when it hurts."
With only each other to rely on for safety and acceptance, it is easy to see why Alice and Zoe are so close. But Alice has a terrifying secret: she has just been diagnosed with aggressive ovarian cancer, the same disease that killed her own mother. Terrified of worrying her daughter and positive that she can handle her diagnosis alone, Alice schedules a surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.
At the same time, two other women enter the scene: Kate, Alice’s trustworthy nurse, and Sonja, her well-intentioned yet pushy social worker. Unaccustomed to the added support, Alice is wary of Kate and Sonja, but does not yet know that they are dealing with their own issues. Kate has just miscarried for the third time, while Sonja ---a woman well-equipped to deal with dysfunction --- is beginning to realize that her husband may be more abusive than passionate.
When Alice’s diagnosis takes a turn for the worse, Kate steps in to foster Zoe --- while still reeling from the news that it will be nearly impossible for her to carry a child of her own. While each of Hepworth’s characters was beautifully developed and explored, Kate was truly a standout. Her complex emotions, handled with the author’s grace and respect, took THE MOTHER’S PROMISE to a whole new level and gave this book an edge that is often lacking in women’s fiction. Sonja was equally as well-written and provided a fantastic foil to Alice’s dark sense of humor.
That said, I must admit that Zoe was the star of the show for me. Although she has only published fiction for adults, Hepworth has a keen understanding of a younger mentality --- a trait I also noticed in THE THINGS WE KEEP. She writes with all of the immediacy of youth while expertly navigating the heartfelt emotions and reflection of adulthood. While reading THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, I often found myself wishing that Hepworth would consider turning to young adult or middle-grade fiction next, as I feel she is one of the few adult authors who could make the switch seem effortless.
I cannot, in good conscience, say that THE MOTHER’S PROMISE is a happy story, but its exploration of emotion and the human psyche will certainly warm your heart. As the novel concludes, each of these four women learn that it takes more than a strong will to battle life’s obstacles, be they physical, emotional or mental. Whether they are dealing with their own interior battles or fighting something much larger, each woman undergoes a journey that is achingly beautiful and expertly written. Hepworth writes characters who feel like old friends and extended family members; you cannot help but love them, even when it hurts.
In the world of literature, it is an author’s job not only to take his or her readers on wild adventures through their imaginations, but also to make their writing deeply personal. Some authors struggle with this balance, but others, like Sally Hepworth, make even the most complicated situations feel as though they are happening to the reader. Her talent knows no bounds, and I cannot wait to see where she turns her focus next.
Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on February 24, 2017