Review Blog

Jul 01 2019

Promise me happy by Robert Newton

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Penguin Random House, 2019. ISBN: 9780143796442.
(Age: Adolescent - Adult) Recommended. Plunging us immediately into the world of Nate, recently released from juvenile detention, Robert Newton begins his novel with the poignant words spoken by this troubled young man who wonders 'if it is possible for people to change'. He decides to return to his old home in a country town, surrounded by peaceful lakes and friendly people, and is unexpectedly offered work.
We are captivated by this charming and peaceful little world, nestled in the trees and sitting by lakes and the sea. Yet Robert Newton writes of Nate's difficulty in settling back in this society after spending time in 'juvie', given that Nate has also lost both of his parents. When he finds that his willingness to get involved, to work, to make new friends, and to settle down in this little town, enables him to be accepted, and indeed to be supported, and he is stunned. Newton evokes a powerful emotional response in the reader as we sense the loving care and friendship offered by this community to Nate. He meets a young woman but is shocked to discover that she has to face a great challenge, harder than he can imagine. They become strong friends, finding in each other both kindness and love that offers great strength for both of them.
Robert Newton has constructed a strong narrative that is utterly captivating, yet gentle and life-affirming. His narrative glows with a vivid sense of place as do his lyrical descriptions of the little town, its buildings, people and the extraordinary beauty of the water that surrounds them, capturing and holding our imagination. Quirky, but intensely moving, are the moments when he sees the dog appearing to wink at him, this dog that acts as an agent of change. He feels as if the dog is aware that he needs help and is simply determined to be part of his life. The loving care that Nate is offered, by humans and dog alike, and the gentle acceptance of his presence, are monumental in someone so damaged by life.
This rich, vivid and compelling novel would be entirely suitable for adolescent readers and indeed is a thought-provoking read for adults. Teacher's notes are available.
Elizabeth Bondar

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