CM November 24, 1995. Vol. II, Number 6

image Amy's Promise.

Bernice Thurman Hunter.
Richmond Hill, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1995. 192pp, paper, $4.99.
ISBN 0-590-24621-6.

Subject Headings:
Family life-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
Death-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5 - 8 / Ages 10 - 13.
Review by Jennifer Sullivan.


Feb. 18, 1926
Dear Mama, today I am very sad because it is six years since you went away. I wish I had a sister to talk to. Oh, Mama, why did you have to die? And why did Daddy let Aunt Bessie take our baby? Didn't he love her anymore? Maybe he doesn't love any of us.

Bernice Hunter What do kids today have in common with those of sixty years ago? Plenty, according to award-winning writer Bernice Thurman Hunter, whose latest novel, Amy's Promise, is set in the 1920s. The author of the much-loved "Booky" trilogy again treats us to a delightful and nostalgic glimpse at growing up -- which also manages to explore some serious and contemporary issues.

When her mother dies at an early age, young Amy Phair promises to look after the little ones. Along with her stern Gramma Davis, Amy must take care of the household chores and raise her boisterous younger brothers. To make matters worse, Amy's baby sister has been sent to live with Aunt Bessie in Edmonton, and her father is an alcoholic who constantly quarrels with Gramma. And why is Amy left with all the chores while her younger brothers are allowed to play? Amy is filled with indignation when Gramma Davis tells her that a boy can t be seen pegging out the washing. She envies the idyllic life of her best friend Winnie Plum, who lives in a pretty house, doesn't do a lick of work, and has two parents who love her.


Thurman Hunter is especially adept at evoking time and place, infusing her stories with a quality of warm reminiscence. She evokes Toronto during the 1920s as Amy and her brothers gather around the radio to listen to "Amos and Andy," take a ride on the trolley, and contentedly munch on brown-sugar sandwiches. Part of the great charm of the book lies in Amy's ability to find joy in such simple pleasures. A sleep-over at Winnie's house, a new pair of grey suede shoes, and the soothing rhythm of a piano all make Amy feel like she's the luckiest girl in the world.

Amy is a typical heroine: full of infectious spirit and optimism that she manages to pass on to those around her -- but she does have faults like jealousy and selfishness. All of the characters in Amy's Promise are multi-layered and motivated by a wide range of emotions; Thurman Hunter's rich characterizations propel the story beyond the perimeters of mere nostalgia.

The contemporary themes make an excellent bridge between past and present, and Amy's Promise would be a good introduction to studies on alcoholism, one-parent families, or gender stereotyping.

My only complaint is that the fairy-tale conclusion ties things up too neatly; alcoholics are not reformed overnight, broken families not so easily mended. However, it's also satisfying to stumble upon a happy ending. Amy's Promise is a lesson in understanding, as well as a fun and educational jaunt into the past. Highly readable, it will no doubt be most entertaining to girls.


Jennifer Sullivan has a Master's degree in English Literature and works within the Children's Literature Service of the National Library of Canada.

Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

Go back to CM Welcome page
Go back to Table of Contents for this Issue