Promise

A Novel

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July 11, 2023 | ISBN 9780593742983

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About the Book

Two Black sisters growing up in small-town New England fight to protect their home, their bodies, and their dreams as the Civil Rights Movement sweeps the nation in Promise, a “magical, magnificent novel” (Marlon James) from “a startlingly fresh voice” (Jacqueline Woodson).

A KIRKUS REVIEWS AND CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR


The people of Salt Point could indeed be fearful about the world beyond themselves; most of them would be born and die without ever having gone more than twenty or thirty miles from houses that were crammed with generations of their families. . . . But something was shifting at the end of summer 1957.

The Kindred sisters—Ezra and Cinthy—have grown up with an abundance of love. Love from their parents, who let them believe that the stories they tell on stars can come true. Love from their neighbors, the Junketts, the only other Black family in town, whose home is filled with spice-rubbed ribs and ground-shaking hugs. And love for their adopted hometown of Salt Point, a beautiful Maine village perched high up on coastal bluffs.

But as the girls hit adolescence, their white neighbors, including Ezra’s best friend, Ruby, start to see their maturing bodies and minds in a different way. And as the news from distant parts of the country fills with calls for freedom, equality, and justice for Black Americans, the white villagers of Salt Point begin to view the Kindreds and the Junketts as threats to their way of life. Amid escalating violence, prejudice, and fear, bold Ezra and watchful Cinthy must reach deep inside the wells of love they’ve built to commit great acts of heroism and grace on the path to survival.

In luminous, richly descriptive writing, Promise celebrates one family’s story of resistance. It’s a book that will break your heart—and then rebuild it with courage, hope, and love.
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Praise for Promise

“A luminous coming-of-age story set in 1950s Maine . . . [Griffiths was] someone I wished to read again and again.”Kaitlyn Greenidge for Harper’s Bazaar

Promise beautifully captures how teenagers become more aware of everything around them and wonder about their place in the world. . . . Rachel Eliza Griffiths expertly tells a story of racial tension and discrimination, self-exploration, and the simple right to exist amid the spread of the Civil Rights Movement in Maine.”—BookBrowse

“Luminescent. . . . a devastating story of remarkable resilience.”—The Christian Science Monitor

“A heartbreaking and beautiful debut that doesn't hold any punches.”—WAMC

“Gorgeous and gripping.”—Ms.

“A searing account of how racism reaches its long arm into all corners of American life, Griffiths’ first novel also honors the love cradled within Black families and how it grants them inner strength and the power of defiance.”—Historical Novel Society

Promise is forged in a crucible of irrational violence and darkness that paradoxically gives birth to luminous, resilient love. This is a novel so potent, written in such transcendent prose, one wonders if it’s secretly a magic spell. It’s a stunning achievement.”—Kiran Desai, author of The Inheritance of Loss

“This is a magical, magnificent novel that amounts to a secret history of an America we think we know but never really knew . . . The result bowls us over with shock and grief, but eventually fills our hearts with awe and wonder.”—Marlon James, author of Moon Witch, Spider King

Promise is a stunning exploration of the weight and triumph of legacy, of what it has cost Black Americans to make homes in a country where violence and terror pursue them, and of all of the things it can mean to be called home.”—Danielle Evans, author of The Office of Historical Corrections

“A beautifully rendered narrative and a startlingly fresh voice . . . I fell in love with the people between these pages. This is truly the first book in a long time where I had to force myself to stop reading.”—Jacqueline Woodson, New York Times bestselling author of Red at the Bone

“Poetic and powerful, Promise slices through self-delusion with its many faces of heroism, loss, and the grace it takes to find a sense of equality in our hearts.”—Walter Mosley, author of Blood Grove

“This is a gorgeous and heart-stopping account of the casual and calculated racism endured by a Black family in 1950s Maine as well as the love and strength that sustain them. . . . A stunning and evocative portrait of love, pride, and survival.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The stirring debut novel from poet Griffiths depicts the insidious reach of racism in the Jim Crow era. . . . This stands as an affirmation of a family’s fierce pride and hard-won joy.”—Publishers Weekly
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Excerpt

Promise

1

The day before our first day of school always signaled the end of the time Ezra and I loved most. Not time like the clocks that ticked and rang their alarms every morning; we knew that time didn’t really begin or end. What we meant by time was happiness, a careless joy that sprawled its warm, sun-stained arms through our days and dreams for eight glorious weeks until our teachers arrived back in our lives, and our parents remembered their rules about shoes, bathing, vocabulary quizzes, and home training.

More than anything, we prayed that the air would remain mild for as long as possible, mid-October even, so that we could retain some of our summer independence, free to roam the land we knew and loved. We weren’t yet grown, but even the adults could pinpoint when time would tell us we would no longer be young.

We mourned summertime’s ending and made predictions about autumn and ourselves. Mostly we repeated all the different ways that summer was more honest than the rest of the year. It was the only time we could wear shorts and cropped tops with little comment from our mother. Ezra and I were allowed to walk nearly anywhere we wanted—in the other seasons, we needed permission even to walk to the village docks. And the eating! How we could eat! Mama loosened her apron strings about salt and sugar. Each day, it felt like we were eating from the menu of our dreams—fresh corn, ice cream, sliced tomatoes with coarse salt and pepper, chilled lobster, root beer floats, watermelon, oysters, crab and shrimp salads, fried chicken, homemade lemon or raspberry sorbet, grilled peaches, potato salad, and red popsicles.

In the summer, the wildflowers returned, even in the village square. Some dead local official once believed the square, arranged around a small pond with a handful of benches, was a civil idea. Indeed, it would have been charming except there was the sea. Steps away from the square, down the narrow central passage of our village, the main street opened into a slender, shining pier where everything happened.

About the Author

Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet, visual artist, and novelist. She is a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize and was a finalist for a NAACP Image Award. Griffiths is also a recipient of fellowships from many organizations, including Cave Canem Foundation, Kimbilio, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, and Yaddo. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Tin House, and other publications. Promise is her first novel. More by Rachel Eliza Griffiths
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