Promise Me This follows the lives of two people, Annie Allen and Michael Dunnagan. Annie is a 14 year old orphan, living in England as the ward of her domineering Aunt Eleanor. Her older brother, Owen, dreams of providing a better life for himself and Annie, but to do so he needs to sail to America and establish himself as a partner in his relatives' garden business. He books passage on the Titanic in the spring of 1912. In the meantime, Michael, a penniless orphan from Ireland, runs away from his abusive uncle and ends up in England, where he happens to meet Owen Allen. Owen takes Michael under his wing and cares for him in the weeks before he is to sail to America, even teaching Michael a bit about gardening, and lining up a job for him. But at the last minute, Michael decides instead to stow away aboard the Titanic, hoping for a fresh start in America. When Owen realizes Michael is on board, he once again sets out to take care of him, even sharing his food and letting Michael take turns sleeping in his bunk. He also has the opportunity to share his faith with Michael, and takes time to teach him more about gardening and his dreams for the family business in New Jersey. When the ship sinks, Owen saves Michael's life, while sacrificing his own.
Back in England, Annie is heartbroken when she learns of Owen's death. She also becomes angry and bitter when she hears that Michael survived, while her beloved brother died. Not only did Michael survive, but he then moved in with the Allen relatives in New Jersey, fulfilling his last promise to Owen to help with their garden business, and eventually to provide for Annie and bring her to America, too.
In time, Annie learns to let go of her bitterness against Michael, and the two even begin to form a friendship as they exchange letters. But just as their friendship is beginning to blossom into something deeper, the Great War starts in Europe. And Annie's vindictive Aunt Eleanor isn't done with her schemes, either. When Annie's letters to Michael abruptly stop with no explanation, Michael decides to sail to England and search for her. Will he be able to find her, or will the war destroy all his dreams for their future? You'll have to read the book to find out. :)
I have always been fascinated with both the Titanic disaster and World War I, so I really enjoyed reading a book that covered both. I hadn't actually ever thought about how close in time the two events happened (about two years between the time Titanic sank and the beginning of the war), so it was interesting to consider how the war would have affected those who had survived the Titanic tragedy.
Promise Me This was very well-researched and well-written. One thing I thought was really neat was that the author, Cathy Gohlke, had actually found the name "Owen Allum" on a copy of the ship's manifest, and researched his history. From this she developed the character of Owen Allen, who, even though he has only a short time in this book, is a central character because of how his life intertwined with Annie's and Michael's. Cathy also has a real gift for creating believable locations, as well as characters. From the lavish interior of Titanic to the grim ocean waters where she sank; from the city streets of England to the battlefields of France; from the Irish slums to the peace of small-town New Jersey, every setting felt real. I found myself caring about the characters and what happened to them. I was sad when Owen died. I really wanted to do away with Aunt Eleanor. :) I cheered for Michael in his dogged determination to keep his promises to Owen, and to find Annie. And I especially loved the theme of self-sacrifice and "greater love hath no man than this . . . " that ran through the book.
The only tiny "complaint" I had about this book was that the ending felt a little abrupt. I actually loved the way the last scene was written, but I wished there might have been an epilogue to give a more satisfactory feeling of completion.
This was my first Cathy Gohlke novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You can visit Cathy at her website here, to learn more about her and her previous novels! Many thanks to Tyndale for giving me the privilege to be part of this blog tour!
Full Disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.