The Things We Promise by J. C. Burke | Non-Spoiler Review

The Things We Promise by J. C. Burke | Non-Spoiler Review
I was sent this book from Allen & Unwin in exchange for an honest review. It was published on the x of March 2017.

Hey Ho Bookaholics!

I stayed up for 5-ish hours (with phone breaks) to finish reading the last 300 pages of this soul crushing book, just so I could bring you this review today as promised.

the things we promise book cover - The Things We Promise by J. C. Burke | Non-Spoiler Review

Goodreads Summary:

There are two things you need to know about me. The first is that I remember life by what I was wearing. The second is that I think too much.

It’s the early 1990s and all Gemma can think about is looking perfect for her first school formal. Gemma’s brother Billy – New York’s up and coming hair and make-up artist – has made her the ultimate promise: he’s returning home especially to ‘create magic’ on her and two friends for their end-of-year formal. Gemma’s best friend, Andrea, is convinced it’ll be their moment to shine; Gemma hopes it’s the night Ralph will finally notice her.

But when Billy arrives home from New York, Gemma’s life becomes complicated. Her family’s been keeping secrets; friendships are forged and broken; and suddenly the length of her formal dress is the least of her worries.

Set in a time of uncertainty and fear, The Things We Promise is a beautifully told novel that sings with emotion, humour and heartbreak.


I went into this book not knowing anything about the book, as I do with any new novel I have been sent for review so I don’t form any opinions before I begin. Although after completing this book, I would advise everyone who wants to read this book, to read the synopsis and/or this review, prior to reading the book

The whole book revolves around the topic of AIDS; what it does to the person with AIDS, as well as how it impacts the family of the sufferer.

I found this novel quite informative and very overwhelming. The way gay people were referred to in the 1990s with words such as “poofta” and “fag” really shocked me as they would never be acceptable to use today; also everything to do with AIDS and people dying from AIDS really made me feel out of place as a reader. The only aspect of the story I felt connected to was a small part of Gemma’s school life which had the aspects of a normal Australian teenagers life.

The reason I was so eager to read this novel was because of the #LoveAusYA initiative that appreciates and celebrates Australian Young Adult literature. I began this book only knowing one thing; that this book is set in the suburbs of Australia, and that alone sold this book for me.

It is very rare that a Young Adult book is set in Australia. It is always London or America, and as an Australian reader I can never relate to those books, so while reading this I was totally familiar with the slang such as “bludging”, “dag” and “Maccas”; the school system – though we Aussies use the word formal not prom; and the environment overall just gave the book an Aussie undertone that just made me happy to read it.

This book was told from the point of view of a teenage girl in high school, although the very appealing aspect about this book is that the teenage aspect of this girls life didn’t take away from the main issue of AIDS in the story. From the opening, I had bad vibes from one of the characters, and without spoiling the novel for anyone, I want to say that the “selfish-best-friend trope” somewhat put a damper on the story, as that characters over-the-top attitude was unnecessary, though her presence was definitely needed.

Okay, so I can totally understand why this book might be hated by some people due to the use of offensive language, but everyone must understand that these words are used by Gemma and reflect the society at the time. Though these words still shocked me, especially when she said “fag-mag” I had to remind myself that these words are a reflection of the society at the time and maybe Gemma’s way of coping with her brother being gay.

Death. There is lots of death. There is death that ranges from insignificant characters to highly significant and sacred characters who you grow to love. At the start of the book I sent my friend a message that pretty much sums it up.- The Things We Promise by J. C. Burke | Non-Spoiler Review

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Though as the book progresses, you begin to connect with the characters, though not on the same level that you connect with with the Shadowhunters, but a connection all the same.

An old Italian couple appeared in the story. They were cute and everything an old Italian couple should be – I’m Italian so I kinda know – and the mix of Italian and English words they used in their sentences was cute and amusing when they got phrases mixed up (as seen in Joe Avati’s videos).

Without saying too much, the doctors in the AIDS ward of the hospital seemed very insincere toward the patients and their families, like someone’s death was another thing that was just going to happen. Though I don’t believe doctors are that heartless, but I have never been in a ward that intense.

People taking the initiative to raise awareness about AIDS and standing up to bullies, really made my heart swell and it wasn’t done in a way that made it seem cheesy but everyone who wanted to raise awareness, did it out of the kindness of their own hearts and because they love Gemma. Faith in Humanity restored!

the things we promise book review blog header 1 - The Things We Promise by J. C. Burke | Non-Spoiler Review

★ Rating ★

It was 3:20am and there were tears falling from my eyes. It was the horribly heartbreaking ending and the generosity of people who want to stamp out the stigma and hate towards people and the family of people with AIDS, made me want to give this book ★★★★★ (5/5 stars). This book has opened my mind to what AIDS actually is and what it does to a person and their family.


Stay Happy, Healthy, and have a Lovely Week!!


Thank You so much for reading and I hope to see you all back here for Storytime Wednesday 🙂
bree xoxo - The Things We Promise by J. C. Burke | Non-Spoiler Review

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© Jasper+Spice 2017. All Rights Reserved. Please do not use without permission. This post was not sponsored, some photos are my own and were featured on my Instagram @thebookishbree. Please follow me on Goodreads (jasperandspice). 

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