‘Heart’s Promise’ by Jeanette Hornby is a deceptively gentle book about pre-adolescent and early teenage romance.
Through a series of frames of ordinary life, we meet Milly when she is only eleven years old and already feeling the pangs of attraction and shyness with regard to the boy next door. The reader is taken on that old, familiar roller-coaster ride of first love awakening, and reminds us how these experiences are often the fundamental lessons in honesty, integrity and family values.
Set in Australia in the early seventies, this is a story of a small community, migrant labour, broken families, religious differences and racial prejudices, friendship and loyalty; and children struggling to find their own identity in the see-saw of adult relationships. We see everything through Milly’s eyes, becoming involved in her growing infatuation with the handsome Flynn – a seemingly insignificant and everyday scenario when played out against the broader backdrop of domestic dramas and winds of social change; but for Milly, in the tender teenage years, this is the driving focus in her life.
The novel skilfully portrays a young girl on the brink of sexual awareness and adult emotions; her conflicting feelings, her first kiss, the tumult of jealousy and betrayal, the reality of loss and grief.
What I liked about this book was the quiet, easy style of writing, cleverly introducing the more serious underlying issues of class, dysfunctional families, and the dangers faced when growing up – all within the framework of ordinary life. At the end of the book, I was loath to leave Milly and Flynn, they had built so strongly in my mind. This is a story for young and old, universal in appeal. A real trip down memory lane