Inspired by her family’s history—Christine Day tells the story of a girl who uncovers her family’s secrets—and finds her own Native American identity.
All her life, Edie has known that her mom was adopted by a white couple. So, no matter how curious she might be about her Native American heritage, Edie is sure her family doesn’t have any answers.
Until the day when she and her friends discover a box hidden in the attic—a box full of letters signed “Love, Edith,” and photos of a woman who looks just like her.
Suddenly, Edie has a flurry of new questions about this woman who shares her name. Could she belong to the Native family that Edie never knew about? But if her mom and dad have kept this secret from her all her life, how can she trust them to tell her the truth now?
Christine Day (Upper Skagit) grew up in Seattle, nestled between the sea, the mountains, and the pages of her favorite books. Her debut novel, I CAN MAKE THIS PROMISE (Harper), was a best book of the year from Kirkus, School Library Journal, NPR, and the Chicago Public Library, as well as a Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book, and an American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor Book. Her second novel, THE SEA IN WINTER (Harper/Heartdrum), is coming to shelves on January 5, 2021. She also wrote the forthcoming SHE PERSISTED: MARIA TALLCHIEF (Philomel), an early reader biography in a new series inspired by Chelsea Clinton's bestselling picture book. Christine lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.
Her work is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
Middle grade literature can too often become heavily reliant on a number of well-worn tropes. For example, this year (2019) we’ve been seeing a slew of books where the mom is dead and the daughter has to essentially care for her grief-stricken father. But this literature isn’t just limited to dead moms. Grief is weighing down the protagonists of 2019 like a heavy blanket. So much so that members of a book committee I serve on have taken to saying, “If nobody’s grieving, then the book wasn’t published in 2019”. Into this wasteland comes I Can Make This Promise. In this book you will not find the main character mourning anyone. This is not to say there isn’t sadness and tragedy tucked into the folds of the plot, but the book doesn’t dwell. Instead, it’s got a kicky little storyline full of family secrets, lying parents, mean friends, and a mystery with an unexpected ending. I think I may have devoured it entirely in one sitting and, when I was done, I felt lighter inside. Set in contemporary Seattle with a Suquamish/Duwamish protagonist, Day (Upper Skagit) highlights a historical injustice by writing a book a kid might actually enjoy reading. No mean task.
Imagine you’re poking around your attic and you find a box. Inside there are photographs of a woman who could be your twin. She looks just like you, right down the gap between her teeth. Even stranger, this woman has your first name. “Edith”. But this can’t possibly be a relative. Your mom is Native American and was adopted as a baby. She has no clue who her family even is. Your dad is white, so this woman clearly isn’t from his side. So who is “Edith”? Why is her story in your attic? Why is her name your name? In I Can Make This Promise, a girl digs deep into her family history, finding truths that are painful and stories that are horrifying and yet must be told if any kind of healing can begin.
Is it weird that I enjoy books where parents keep secrets from their kids, and the kids know what those secrets are? That’s a pretty unique genre. It’s weird too because as a parent I should be entirely on the parents’ side. Solidarity, right? But if a writer is adept, I’m more than happy to sink into a child’s invocation of righteous indignation. In Day’s story, the secret that the parents hide from their girl is kept a secret for a long time partly because she refuses to ask them about it outright. Sometimes her reluctance can feel contrived. By necessity, her reasons for keeping silent must change as the book progresses, and in a less skillful authors’ hands it would take you out of the story entirely. Fortunately, when the truth comes it’s by Edie and on purpose. It’s not one of her friends. It’s not fate. It’s Edie who asks.
As I say, I revel in books where kids can take their parents to task. But I Can Make This Promise is a little different from those other books. There are usually only a couple reasons why parents would hide information from their kids in middle grade novels. Read enough of them and you get a bit jaded. So as much as I was enjoying Ms. Day’s book, I wasn’t expecting much of the big reveal at the end. Odds were that the mom would just relay some family history and you’d find out that her mother had died in childbirth or something and that’s why she was put up for adoption. When the explanation does come, Day has, until that moment, been parceling out her story with great care. She’s been drawing you into Edie’s grandmother’s life with letters and postcards from the get go. By the time you get the full explanation, you feel like you know her. And the back-story isn’t shocking at first. Then you learn about what happened when Edith accompanied her brother into Seattle. You don’t know why, but there’s this strange sense the whole time that something terrible is going to happen. And when the real truth comes out, it isn’t faked or padded or jollied along. It is quick and horrible, all the more so because it is real. I haven’t had a punch in the gut at the end of a middle grade novel, combined with American history I was never taught, like this pretty much ever.
Lots of children’s books work American history into their stories. A few from Indigenous writers will discuss Native American history too, but often they involve moments in history that could feel very long ago to the readership. But if you read Day’s Author’s Note at the end, you’ll see that this story involves elements that reference events from the 1950s, 2004, 1989, 2009, and, most importantly, The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Some of this history is good, and a lot of it is awful. Because of this, Day’s book feels like a rarity. A contemporary story about a Suquamish/Duwamish girl discovering her own heritage? Why does this feel so astoundingly one-of-a-kind? How can we get more books like these on our shelves? The fact that it’s even been written is a good start. More please.
A truly enticing, beautifully written story that delivers a historical reveal at just the right time.
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked up this book for #vaultathon, but what I do know is that I learned so much. I've always been an advocate for reading diverse books or reading books with Black characters or books written by Black authors, but what I didn't realize is how much I have to learn. It's easy to advocate for you own experiences, yet be so unaware of the experiences of other marginalized groups around you. This book definitely opened my eyes to some of the troubled experiences that are faced by Native communities. This book tugged at my heart in unexpected ways.
Day seemed to excel at drawing the reader into the experiences of her characters. Even though Edie is significantly younger than me as a reader, I found her frustration and anger to be so relevant to even my own life experiences. I wasn't constantly concerned about remembering how old she was because Day was able to create a narrative that required empathy from the reader. I actually found Edie to be a refreshing middle-grade character that was truly invested in learning more about cultural roots and heritage.
The actually intertwining of historical events and figures into the text was also extremely rewarding. I was a history major in college; however, it is unwise to assume that I would learn everything about the history of the United States in just four years. There were events and activists described in this book that I had no knowledge of prior to my read. This pushed me to do my own outside research and listen to voices of those that know more than I do. It easy to know that a specific group of individuals has been treated wrong by a governmental system, but to dig into the actual specifics of those wrong doings is enough to make anyone sick (I won't get into specifics here because of spoilers). I was mind blown and plan to make sure that I continue to educate myself and learn more about Native experiences.
My only criticism of this book is that I wanted the author to explore the friendship dynamic a little more. It seemed like it played such a huge role in the beginning, but then began to fizzle out towards the middle of the book. I think that friendships are so important to a middle grade intended audience so I would have enjoyed a little more exploration. Overall, this novel was amazing and I can't wait to check out more from this author.
Well that was another exceptionally interesting middle school novel!
I never cease to be horrified at the appalling treatment of Indigenous peoples. I wasn't aware of some of the discriminatory policies covered in this novel ( I can't specifically mention them because they are spoilers). The other friendship drama parts of the story were very middle school and the target audience will relate well to these, however, in my opinion they did dilute the more important story. A good novel for middle schoolers exploring themes of injustice and identity.
This is the November 2020 middle grade pick for the NEA Read Across America theme of Native American Perspectives. Stellar, essential middle grade read. Can’t wait to read this aloud to 4th & 5th grades!
(Oh, and the picture book pick this month is FRY BREAD - I love this book SO MUCH)
I hope this book makes it onto every school list in existence.
Day creates a realistic middle school world where any reader can see themselves, with the ups & downs of friendships & a dynamic parent-child relationship. With foundations set, we dive into the unique experiences & family history of a Native American child. Day pulls you in with the lovely quirks of Edie’s character & then sets before you the mystery of her namesake. Day approaches both the lovely & the heartbreaking things in a family history so well. It was a joy & a sobering experience to learn about Edie’s family.
Whoever did the cover art for this debut (not noted anywhere in/on the ARC) captured the tone & feel of this book so well.
This was the perfect book to start out the year with! I love reading middle grade about complex family relationships and this one definitely didn’t disappoint. I CAN MAKE THIS PROMISE follows a Native girl who uncovers truths about her family and her identity throughout the novel. I really loved the mystery aspect involved in this story! I thought the way it came into play and was eventually resolved was really well-done! I also really loved following the development of the relationship between the main character and her parents. I thought the way the relationship was established and developed allowed for a lot of depth for all characters involved. I do wish that the main character’s friendships had been explored a little more, because I found something lacking in that regard, but overall, I really enjoyed the story—It’s really well-written and easy to get through. I think this is a beautiful story about family and identity and I had a great time reading it!!
trigger warnings: forced separation of families, (institutionalized) racism rep: Indigenous MC & side characters (Suquamish/Duwamish)
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
I Can Make This Promise is a story about identity, family, and friendship. It takes our universal question about wondering where we are from, what our origins are, and sets it in the discovery of a box in the attic. This discovery convinces Edie that someone is lying to her about where her name came from. We always wonder about names. Where our names come from, and Edie's discovery of a secret Edith makes her question everything.
In the midst of these gigantic questions, Edie also struggles with her friendship with her best friend. Growing pains and changes mean we can transform into someone new. Will we always be friends with these new versions of ourselves, our friends? Edie's trust is broken on all sides as her best friend seems to be replacing her and her parents lies. At the same time, I Can Make This Promise is an amazing story that introduces difficult topics to younger middle grade readers such as cultural appropriation, the way our history books has erased narratives, and racism.
I picked this up because it was a honor book for the 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Award's and we had it available at my library (literally all I did was walk upstairs and grab it off the shelf). I read it during my lunch break over a span of two days and after finishing it I must say that this was an amazing story and I can see why it was nominated. I really wish we had more diverse stories like this when I was in middle school about Native American tribal nations and the various real-world events, people and places they impacted and felt the repercussions from throughout the twentieth century. Similar to young Edie I felt like my eyes were opened to a lot of things I was not aware of by reading this book and her hope and resilient made an impact on me.
Also this book was well written with parents and family members that were decent human beings that were there for their kid even when it seemed (to the child) that they weren't. I feel like I get so used to YA books where the parents are usually a) dead b) not present or c) too controlling/stifling that it was nice to read a middle grade book in which the family aspect of the novel was just as important, actually even more so, than the friends. That was well done.
I loved this book about finding home when you didn't know where home was. It made me cry, laugh, aww, and taught me about many different things, which is something that always excites me in a book. Edie finds a box in the attic that holds secrets she never even knew she didn't know. What unfolds is growth, a finding of hard truths, and a tragic story. I especially liked how vivid the descriptions were, whether of the places Edie went in the book, or the drawings she made throughout the story. And then on top of everything Edie was trying to piece together about her family and who she was, there were the other things going on that most people went through in their lives. Realizing your friends might not actually be who you thought they were, the changes in the way you see your parents, and the pains of growing up and seeing the world for the harsh place it can be. Definitely looking forward to more from this author.
. This book is awesome ! It’s Day’s debut #middlegradenovel and an #ownvoices story.
Edie doesn’t know much about her mother’s Native American heritage and her mom doesn’t seem to be open to discussing it. I must admit that for more than half of the story I was so frustrated with the mother. She was so unwilling to share details with Edie who is portrayed as curious, passionate, and also very righteous. Edie discovers family secrets in a box in her parent’s room and the story just progresses from there. I learned from this story and that is the thing that I love most about #middlegradebooks ! I got lost researching #splitfeathersyndrome for hours ! I highly recommend this novel ! . . . . . . #icanmakethispromise #christineday #harperbooks #harperchildrens #americanindianlibraryassociation #youthliteratureaward #teachbetterbooks #teachthetruth #bipocauthors #bipocstories #readdiversebooks #diversebooks #diversespines #readmorebooks #readthisbook #indigenousstories #middlegradefiction #middlegradelit #ireadmg #ireadmiddlegrade #bestbooks #shereadsalot
Richly crafted MG novel. Edie is a complex character and seems so real that readers emotionally invest in her pursuing her family history. Cultural and historical information is deftly woven into the story.
This was highly eye opening and beautifully written.
Even though the beginning felt flat and slow for me, as the story progresses and the mystery unfolded, a lot of historical things that happened to native americans in the US came to light and I learned way more than I expected. When I thought that natives are treated poorly in my country, USA always surprises me with the poor treatment of people that aren't white. Surprises surprises... but not.
I just wish that there were some cuts when it comes to some characters and the stories they brought such as the former best friend and uncle Phil because to Phil quite honest they were highly useless and convoluted the story a little bit...
Overall, this was a really sweet and beautiful story that made me want to know and read even more literature about and written by natives americans. 💕
Love it. Love it love it love it. It's hard to write a book. It's hard to write a middle grade book. It's hard to write a middle grade book with believable characters that is true to the pain and struggle of that time of life without coming off as patronizing or trite. To do all of that and then ALSO to have your main character exploring some family history from half a century ago AND to have that family history be believable, compelling, page turning, and real as well? That's huge. This novel does that and does it with phenomenal writing, real characters, a setting that lives and breathes and the most gorgeous cover I've see this year. Love it. Love everything about it. Go read it.
Edie is a bright, creative twelve year old girl that harbors a secret question she's ready to find answers for... "Where am I from?" She knows she's Native American, but her mother was adopted by a white family-- and she's always shied away from telling Edie about their cultural heritage. When Edie discovers a memory box of photos and letters from her namesake, Edith Graham, she's determined to learn her truth. A glorious novel of emerging identity, friendships, and many kinds of family. I was glued to this book, filled with so much emotion I actually cried. Award worthy.
This novel is set in the Seattle area - the main character is a middle school aged girl whose mother is a Native American adoptee who has no contact with her birth family. The main character, Edith, finds a memento from her mother's past that sets her off exploring the Native side of her family. It's lovely and asks big, sometimes painful questions but with a gentle enough touch for younger readers.
Bravo! The local setting and the realistic storyline makes this a deeply meaningful read for young people in the PNW. But it’s also a story that is meaningful to our time and this nation. Well written and thoughtful. Highly recommended.
Earlier this year, I read and reviewed "Tulalip, From My Heart" by Harriette Shelton Dover, so I was hooked on this book, with the mention of the Tulalip Reservation and the Fourth of July fireworks sales at Boom City. I live on Camano Island, WA, (across from the Tulalip Reservation,) where the Tulalip tribe used to canoe to during the summers for berry picking, etc.
Edie has known that she has Native American blood flowing through her, she knows of her mother's adoption by a White family, when she finds a box full of secret letters, photos, she and her friends decide to embark on discovering all about they can about the "secret Edie".
Edie is angry with her parents, as she has believed that they have intentionally kept "secret Edie" from her, not realizing that this was something that they had planned to share with her when they thought it appropriate.
When Edie's parents finally reveal the truth about her "secret Edie" grandmother, she is in disbelief that what happened to both her grandmother and her mother could have happened as late as the 1970's, and angered that it was allowed to have happened. What is described in "secret Edie's" story was not surprising to me, since I had read Harriette's book earlier this year, it was and is still upsetting that it took Congress so long to pass the "Indian Child Welfare Act" in 1978!
Christine, thank you for sharing your family's, and all Native American's, story.
I would not recommend this book to people who like books that answer all of the problems that appear in the book, because this book does not answer a lot of the things that happen in the book. The story is about a girl named Edie whose mom was adopted by a white couple. Edie was with her two friends in the attic when they discovered a box full of letters signed “Love Edith” and photos of a woman who looked just like her. This made Edie think that the woman who shares the same name as her belonged to the Native Family Edie never knew about. Her mom and dad kept this secret from her all her life. This made Edie not trust her parents anymore because she never knew about these letters. One part that I disliked was when the author said every single thing Edie was thinking, did or said in the book because it made reading the book quite boring since some parts were just unnecessary (like her friends looking sad and things like that). I don’t really have a clear opinion of this book.
This book will make your heart swell. Easily accessible prose for elementary, but still filled with beautiful imagery and figurative language. Centering an indigenous experience in modern times, while still giving backstory to depiction of Native Americans in films and the emotional impact of removing Native American children from their families. Plus some truly tear-jerking coming-of-age moments. So good.
This book was such a pleasant find. It's a character driven Middle Grade book that deals with coming of age. When you start to see your parents and grandparents in a different light. You begin to see that they may have made mistakes but at the heart is a desire to protect you. I loved the story of adoption, of stolen children and it's affect on Indigenous people. I hope you read this book and enjoy it as much as I did.
Such a beautifully written book even though parts of it are heartbreaking. Reading about cultures different from mine, I realise there is so much to learn as there is a difficult truth at the heart of this story.
I loved Edie and her determination to get to know her Native American heritage. The relationships in this book, be it friendship, love or parents, were heartwarming.
Christine Day weaves the past with the present so beautifully here and engages with injustice really powerfully. Edie was an incredible narrator; I loved reading about her passion for art and admired how she stood up for herself. I really appreciated how the author resolved some things but not all, in a way that felt authentic and defied the need for an artificial, saccharine ending sometimes found in middle grade books. This book is special.