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I Can Make This Promise

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
I Can Make This Promise Book Poster Image
Native American girl learns family secrets in touching tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Native American tribes from Seattle region are mentioned, their roles in history explored. Author's note at end of book names Native American activists, describes their contributions. Here, author also mentions how the tribes were and are affected by U.S. settlements and U.S. government.

Positive Messages

Family members can find the real you, even if you feel lost. Support can come from trusted adults who might not be your parents. Trust the people who are genuine. Don't waste time on people who make you feel bad. Your talents can bring you to a higher level. Friendships only work if the people involved are kind to each other. There's wisdom in tradition. Ancestors can be valuable, even if you've never met them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although Edie's family comes from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, individuals show deep respect toward one another. Her father comes from European origins, his mother, though adopted by a non-Native family, has Native American roots. Edie's Uncle Phil is a trusted adult, who avails himself to her in ways that her parents cannot: He listens to her worries, and she can confide in him. Edie's parents are loving, supportive, open.

Violence & Scariness
Language

"Suck."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Can Make This Promise is a heartfelt story about a family whose connection with its Native American heritage has been disrupted. Family secrets are uncovered, the theme of coerced adoption is brought up, and a glimpse into life on a reservation is briefly explored. Identity is the theme, as people ask the main characters, who have Native American roots, where they are from, "what" they are, telling them how exotic they look. There's some slight bullying among friends.

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What's the story?

Set in modern-day Seattle, I CAN MAKE THIS PROMISE is about a 12-year-old girl named Edie who's always been told she looks like she comes from somewhere exotic. Her mom never revealed much about her childhood, except to tell a few vague stories. Edie always knew that her mother was adopted and had been raised in a White family, but she didn't think to press her mom on the topic, until she and her friends discovered a mysterious box tucked into a corner of the attic. Inside the box are artifacts of a life lived before Edie's time, but the connections to her mother's past prove to hold more pain than Edie had expected. 

Is it any good?

This beautifully and simply told tale explores the ripple effects of a long-held family secret. Though couched in the rhythms of a loving family's life in modern-day Seattle, the sad truths of the past pierce a tween's life, and her rage at being left out of the unspoken past feels appropriate and proportional.

Inside of this loving, if basic, tale lies some serious truth. As Edie's mom says, "For many years, Native children were forcibly removed from their families and communities." The author, who identifies as the "daughter of a Native American Upper Skagit/Nooksack/Blackfeet/Nez Perce adoptee," is making a point: U.S. history is full of tragic stories of coercion and force. I Can Make This Promise lets this truth rise up subtly in the telling, and kids will appreciate the activist spirit that underlies the story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about family secrets in I Can Make This Promise. Edie doesn't know much about her mom's birth family, and when she discovers the truth, she's angry that it's been kept from her. A Google search is a way Edie's friends tried to look into her family's past. What secrets would you prefer to keep hidden?

  • What do you know about the Native American history of your area? Do the movies you've seen represent the truth, or do you think there's more than meets the eye?

  • Edie has to make a hard choice when one of her best friends starts hanging around a bully. If they'd been on social media, the bullying might have become even more intense. Are some social media platforms more likely to attract bullies than others? How much of your time do you spend on them? 

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For kids who love Native American stories and family tales

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