In Santa Barbara, California, two teenagers are dead after a freak car accident, and A Promise to Remember focuses on how the families of the two young men deal with their loss.
Melanie Johnston is a single mother raising two children, barely making ends meet. On the other side of town is Andie Phelps, a wealthy married woman who has lost her only child. Both women are angry with the other. When Andie and her husband Blair set up a scholarship in the amount of $45,000 in honor of their son, Chad, Melanie has a fit. How dare they throw this in her face? And how can she do the same for her son when she's barely making a living? She wants the world to know her son and what he could have been if he had lived.
On a whim, she seeks a celebrity lawyer to help her. She believes that this accident was the other boy's fault, and her new lawyer thinks they have a case. Melanie wants to prevent the same thing from happening to other families and believes that hiring a lawyer is her only choice. But when word gets out, Andie’s friends decide to boycott the upscale grocery store where Melanie works to protest the lawsuit and show their loyalty to Andie, thus hurting the stores’ business and the security of everyone’s jobs, including Melanie’s.
Andie is not dealing well with her son’s death and spirals into a depression. She also isn’t getting the support from her husband, although her friends have banded together to help her. She continues to work with his school projects, including a charity event that her husband feels she shouldn’t have to work with anymore. But Andie wants to honor her son’s memory and thinks this is the only way she can do it.
It's one thing after another, as each woman feels that she's the one that deserves the sympathy of the public, until things get out of control. Melanie's job is soon in danger, and Andie's marriage is falling apart to the point where Andie suspects Blair has been having an affair.
A Promise to Remember is a very good debut novel. One may see some similarities to the novels of Jodi Picoult; while the writing style may not be similar, the type of storyline definitely reminds one of Picoult. Cushman takes a tragic event and creates real characters who try to deal with the aftermath. Melanie's anger and frustration over the death of her son, and the troubles she faces on the job, is something that could have come out of a Jodi Picoult book. The only difference is that A Promise to Remember is Christian fiction, and while there is no preachy tone at all throughout the story, it is Melanie's children who bring the Christian themes to the forefront. What Melanie didn't know until after her son's death is that they were involved in a Christian youth group, and it is now Melanie's remaining child, her daughter Sarah, who leads the way for her mother to find hope in the midst of what seems to be unending problems. Because of her son's death, Melanie meets Jake, a man she had no idea was involved with her children as part of the youth group. Jake appears to be the least likely person to be involved with Christianity in general based on his lifestyle and appearance, but he opens her eyes and helps her heal.
For those looking for a captivating read, A A Promise to Remember is definitely a good choice. I hope to read Cushman's next book and expect it to be as riveting as her debut.