Promise the Moon
By Elizabeth Joy Arnold
Bantam Books, June 2008
Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Promise-Moon-Elizabeth-Joy-Arnold/dp/0385340664
It’s silly but I was drawn to this book by the pretty picture on the cover. I thought it would be a book about promises and hope. It was, to a degree, but it was also a bit depressing. I guess I should have expected that from a book that centers on war and suicide. I was hoping the focus would be more on the promise and less on the tragedy.
Promise the Moon by Elizabeth Joy Arnold is about Natalie, a young widow and her two young children, Anna and Toby. We meet the grieving family soon after Josh’s suicide. They feel angry and betrayed that Josh made it home from the war only to make a choice to leave them. We soon learn that Josh arrived home from war physically safe and sound but brought post traumatic stress along with him. Not until midway through the book do we learn the degree of the coping skills he utilized as he tried desperately to return mentally. Young Toby, the one who found his father after he shot himself, immediately stops talking.
Natalie wants to reassure her children of their father’s love for them so she hides a note and pretends that their father is writing to them from heaven. Josh used to put little notes in a secret hiding place in the bathroom for Toby and Anna. He always told the kids the notes were one way he showed his love for them. Natalie was only going to leave one note but when Toby found it he started talking again and the letters seemed like a way to help him cope. The letters end up leading to deception and lies and cause trust issues for Anna. Anna feels guilty about how she acted before her father’s death and has her own secrets as she gains more information about her father’s past.
In the midst of their sorrow the family is uprooted when they are forced to leave the base for “civilian” housing. Natalie moves back in with her parents, including her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. One of the first things Toby does in the new house is run to the bathroom and look for a note. Natalie vows not to send any more letters, so when he stops talking again Anna takes the task upon herself. Even though Toby knows his dad is in heaven, he believes Josh still writes to him. Anna won’t admit to her mother that she is writing the letters and as she reads the letters, Natalie begins to question where the information is coming from. Suddenly the letters reveal things only she and Josh could know. Could he possibly be writing to them?
As she adjusts to being back in her childhood home and helps care for her mother, Natalie she sees hints of a mental illness that plagued her husband upon his return from war. She finds his PDA chock full of notes that clearly helped him make it through his daily routine. Only after reading his detailed notes does she realize how hard he tried to appear to be better. She senses that he wanted desperately to be the Josh she married. She reads through the entries and gains insight into his worlds but she can’t bring herself to read the entry posted on his last day of life.
A chance meeting with an old high school sweetheart and contact from a soldier buddy lend emotional support and additional information to help the family come to terms with Josh’s death and the real reason behind his suicide.
The story is compelling but several times, as I was reading, the book seemed to be dragging on. There was a little too much repetition of events for my liking. The author set out to show how grief impacts a family but she almost included too many scenarios in her attempt to show the array of emotions. I feel that is what caused the book to drag along.
Promise the Moon is not a light read. The author deals with tough issues but the issues are a reality. War happens, military suicide happens and loving families are shattered. Although it is an emotional book readers will find the promise if they stick with the story until the end. Readers will grow to care for these characters as they bond together to deal with their loss. When the last page was turned I was satisfied with the ending. It is possible to find hope and happiness after tragedy but the road to get there is long and bumpy and you may need a friend or two to help you stay the course.