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The Mother’s Promise opens with Alice learning she has cancer. Like any mother, her first thought is for her child. Alice is too busy to have cancer, let alone surgery. Alice’s daughter Zoe suffers from social anxiety, and going to school is painful for her. They are a tight unit, with no suitable family or friends to support them. Alice finds the idea of a week in the hospital impossible. Kate, her pregnant cancer care nurse is worried about the lack of support and calls Sonja, a social worker who has some concerns about her own relationship.
Together, the women in this story are brought together by Alice’s treatment. As the story progresses the women become more and more involved until finally a previously unknown connection is revealed. It was clear from the very beginning that Alice and Zoe are a very tight unit who, while experiencing difficulties, feel like they are doing well by themselves. The forced and unwelcome involvement of Kate and Sonja leads to small opportunities to change their lives.
A Mother’s Promise is cleverly written. Different chapters take each woman’s voice and while the story opens with Alice, each of the women are dealing with their own issues. I enjoyed the depth of the characters and particularly enjoyed reading about Zoe and her experience of social anxiety. I liked the themes of belonging and creating your own family, and I really enjoyed the development of the characters. Zoe in particularly goes through a lot of changes – perhaps reflecting her young age and her potential for change. The adult characters are forced to reflect on their past decisions throughout the book, to ensue that Zoe is safe and happy.
I really enjoyed this book. I liked the tight focus on the main characters and developing tension. Sally Hepworth writes with honesty and dark humour on topics that are serious. The topic of a mother and child facing a cancer diagnosis could be maudlin. But Sally Hepworth negotiates the story with sincerity and even joy. I look forward to reading her other books.
Reviewed by Emma Rutherford
The Mother’s Promise
by Sally Hepworth
Published by Macmillan Australia