PROMISE NOT TO TELL - Jennifer McMahon

Review Written By
Andrea Thompson

Returning to where you grew up is never an easy thing.  The summons comes to Kate Parker - her mother's mental health is on the rapid decline and Kate is expected to step in and assume the parental role.  Something terrible happens on the night of Kate's home-coming.  A young girl is murdered in such a fashion that brings back vivid memories for Kate and the kids she hung out with in her youth.  Back then, the "Potato Girl" was something of dawning urban legend. 

There is always one kid who doesn't fit in, and Kate's secret friendship with the odd Del never came to light, even after her death.  The knife edge of guilt has been blunted by distance and the passing of time but it all comes back with a rush as the investigation into the heart of a close community continues.  It was thirty years ago but the people are all still about; it was only Kate that upped stakes to pursue a life beyond Vermont.  The dementia ramblings of Kate's mother give Kate great concern - what does her mother know, and is it still locked inside where secrets can remain safe?

This book received a fair bit of sleeper hype in the Land of Oz, and the printing of the book with reader's notes for book clubs in the back of it certainly has helped.  It seems to give the idea that the book is deep and meaningful enough to warrant serious discussion.

PROMISE NOT TO TELL seems to battle with wanting to indeed "tell", while at the same time it's a bit scarce with material in which the reader can build a "case" on as to who both past and present killers may be.  The obvious will seem TOO obvious.  Wondering about the market pitch here - it would seem to be written for young adults rather than adult readers who are used to whipcord tight plotting and atmospheric stages on which their fictional murders are set.  Not saying that all young adult mystery novels lack this by any means, but there is a childish simplicity in the manner in which this tale has been related, bringing to mind the carelessness of girlish confidences and the overblown melodrama with which the majority of teens and pre-teens live their lives. There is a certain dreaminess in which the story unfolds which does a nice turn in lulling the reader into a false sense of security that nothing else disturbing can happen - and then of course it does.

This novel plays with what we remember of our childhoods when events were exaggerated by the enthusiasm for new, even frightening experiences.  Younger minds would always thirst for the gorey details.  Marrying up the past to the present never quite works in this novel but taken separately you either have a women's hometown drama or a young teen novel of why secrets only get bigger the longer they're held in.  Your teenage daughter will probably love it but unless you haven't progressed beyond the novels of the type you read in the back room of the classroom on the sly - you won't be as enamoured.  This read will blow the cobwebs away if you've been falling into a reading rut of late but as it is a little maddening overplayed, is perhaps not a spin to be taken beyond the time spent on a short novel.

Year of Publication

Part coming-of-age novel, part ghost story, part psychological thriller, this is a powerful novel of adolescent friendship, betrayal and murder.

Review PROMISE NOT TO TELL - Jennifer McMahon
Andrea Thompson
Saturday, December 27, 2008

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