Review Blog

May 24 2017

The things we promise by J.C Burke

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2017. ISBN: 9781760290405
(Age: 15+) The Things We Promise describes the year of Gemma as she looks forward to her first school formal. Set in the 1990s this novel depicts the typical aspects of growing up as teenagers during this time period. Most notably is Gemma's obsession with going to the local pay phone box to call and catch-up with gossip from her friends (something the current generation of social media always connected teenagers might find different). Most notably and the main theme of the The Things We Promise is a personal recount of the AIDS epidemic which affected the early 1990s. This is described via Gemma's older brother who is gay and has been exposed to HIV. On this theme, the novel describes all the prejudices, discrimination and attitudes that were directed at Gemma and her family because Billy was homosexual and later HIV positive. In short, Gemma's problems with her friends, boyfriends and her formal dress become less of a priority as she deals with the social and emotional issues associated with HIV and AIDS. Later in the book, the themes are heavily associated with Gemma and her family's experience of terminal illness and ultimately grief.
The Things We Promise
is easily related to other texts that feature similar themes of prejudice and discrimination, particularly those related to homophobia and AIDS and would be most suited to senior high school students. It is a great reflection on how far we have come to be more accepting of 'AIDS in the burbs.'
Adam Fitzgerald

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