Kat's Promise


Kat is just twelve years old when her mother dies. Suddenly an orphan, she has no choice but to move in with her bitter, wealthy aunt—the same aunt who Kat believes caused her mother's death. And that is just the beginning of Kat's awful eighth-grade year. The thing that keeps her going, even in her darkest moments, is the promise she made the day her mother died.

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Kat is just twelve years old when her mother dies. Suddenly an orphan, she has no choice but to move in with her bitter, wealthy aunt—the same aunt who Kat believes caused her mother's death. And that is just the beginning of Kat's awful eighth-grade year. The thing that keeps her going, even in her darkest moments, is the promise she made the day her mother died.
With an exceptional voice and haunting insight, Bonnie Shimko has written a story about uncovering dark family secrets, finding friends in the most unlikely places, and learning to let go. Kat is both wise beyond her years and frighteningly vulnerable—but above all, she is wholly unforgettable.

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Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Pam Carlson
The hardworking author tosses almost every ball having to do with teen angst into the mix and juggles them, sometimes unbelievably-abuse, parental death, rich versus poor, physical and mental challenges, a mystery relative, pregnancy scare, disinheritance, gullibility, alcoholism, friendship, first boyfriend-the good, the bad, and the ugly. An almost physical hatred exists between fifteen-year-old Kat and her Aunt Paulina. Kat blames Paulina for the death of her mother. To Paulina, Kat is the reminder of the sister who stole her boyfriend and then got pregnant. The two are forced to live together after the death of Kat's parents leaves them with no alternative. Wealthy Paulina provides only what she must to Kat, who finds solace in a newly discovered grandmother and also the next-door neighbor who was a friend to her mother. When Paulina's new boyfriend attempts to rape Kat, she cannot take anymore and moves next door. After Max has gone through much of her money, he leaves Paulina with only her whiskey for company. The ending is hopeful rather than falsely happy. Almost Dickensian in parts, the novel causes readers to wonder what awful thing will happen next. They might find it difficult to buy that after all Kat has been through, she does not see through Max's false concern for her. Several characters hover on the edge of stereotype. The web of story lines is a challenge, but readers are drawn in from the first sentence in which Kat prays for the death of her aunt.
School Library Journal
Gr 7-9-Wealthy Aunt Paulina doesn't help to pay for Kat's mother's cancer treatment, and the now-orphaned 13-year-old promises that she will exact retribution some day. She goes to live with her alcoholic aunt, and dark secrets involving family relationships, murder, teen pregnancy, and abuse are slowly revealed. Kat befriends a girl seemingly from the wrong side of the tracks, but this first impression does not depict the full picture, as is the case for most of the people that the teen encounters. She helps care for a neighbor's grandson, left by his mother because she was unable to cope with his special needs. It is somewhat difficult to accept Kat's ability to bounce back from trauma after trauma as quickly and cleanly as she does, despite her newfound supports. There are many powerful issues here, and they aren't all developed, thus showing that life brings situations so often left unresolved. Well written, with a compelling protagonist, Kat's Promise allows readers to see that there is hope out of a life of pain.-Tracy Karbel, Chicago Public Library System, East Vodak Branch Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Kat's already precarious family dynamics are shaken completely when the aunt whom she blames for her mother's death becomes her guardian. Aunt Paulina had refused to provide funds for a possibly life-saving operation. Her version of family history is at odds with Kat's memories, and her treatment of Kat is governed entirely by bitterness and anger. Kat's new life is filled with strange revelations, new relationships and danger. The housekeeper is really her paternal grandmother; a neighbor becomes a mentor and protector. There is also a friend's pregnancy scare and a near rape by Paulina's new boyfriend. But there's a happy ending for Kat, and Paulina gets her comeuppance. Kat is a sympathetic character who approaches her problems with courage and honesty. But Shimko does not fully develop any of the other characters, and several plot elements are contrived and somewhat over the top. A near miss. (Fiction. 12-15)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780152054731
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/1/2006
  • Pages: 288
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

BONNIE SHIMKO is the author of the critically acclaimed Letters in the Attic, which won a Lambda Literary Award. She lives in Plattsburgh, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

BEFORE I GO to sleep at night in my aunt Paulina’s house, I wish that God would strike her dead. Even though a wish is nothing more than asking the air for a favor, it’s the best I can do. I can’t say a genuine prayer because I’m not speaking to God. Besides, I don’t think he’d be very happy if I came right out and asked him to kill somebody.
I make movies in my head of tragedies that might happen to her. Lightning hits the house while I’m at school, leaving only burned matchsticks and a body that’s unrecognizable. The furnace explodes while Aunt Paulina’s standing next to it, counting the stacks of hundred-dollar bills I imagine she has socked away in the big black safe she keeps next to the wood bin.
Every so often I’m the cause of her death. I sneak into her room and put rat poison in the bottle of whiskey she keeps in the nightstand by her bed. Then when she goes upstairs for a nap, I take a long stroll in the park. Oh! I am so shocked and grief-stricken when I return and find her lifeless body, and the police I have called are all flustered, trying to calm me down.

There, there, they say, patting me on the shoulder with stiff, awkward hands. Everything will be all right. They give each other looks of desperation because none of them knows what to do with a poor orphan girl who has just lost her only living relative. Then the one that’s movie-star handsome takes me by the hand and leads me into the kitchen. He sits me down at the red and white Formica-topped table, gives me a glass of milk, and offers me some cookies—as many as I want.
I’m thrilled to be rid of her. But before long, I remember it’s only a movie in my head, and the heaviness returns to my heart. Then my mind drags me back a month ago to the cemetery—the day my mother was dropped into the dungeon of the earth and my soul was so dead, I wished I could be buried along with her. It is mid-November, the week before my thirteenth birthday—one of those gray Vermont days where the wind sends dead leaves scurrying across the grass like scared brown mice and the damp cold makes its way through my too-small winter coat and into the depths of me.

The piles of freshly dug earth beside the casket are covered with artificial grass, and while the preacher says the committal prayer, I hold my breath as long as I can to see what being dead feels like. It makes my head hurt, so I stop and look over at my aunt Paulina—all done up in fur, with a look of sadness on her face that is so convincing, you would actually believe she’s sorry that her little sister is dead.

After the prayer, four men who work for the funeral parlor use long gray straps to lower Mama’s body into the ground. Their faces strain with the weight of the solid mahogany coffin Aunt Paulina bought to prove to everybody how generous she is—the one that cost more than the operation that would have saved my mother’s life.

I glance up at the clouds that look like bundles of dirty laundry hanging low against the deep violet sky and think of the preacher’s words about how Mama is in the arms of the Lord now. Then I picture my mother inside that box, dressed in the worn pink suit she kept for Sunday best, and I wonder how she’ll stand to be so cold when the threatening snow covers the ground. Tears that won’t come grab hold of my throat and squeeze until the pain is so fierce that I can’t swallow.

I think God has a mean streak like the bullies at school who steal your lunch money. It wouldn’t have cost him anything to let Mama live. It’s hard not to hate somebody like that.

“Come along, Katherine dear,” Aunt Paulina says, as she puts her kid-gloved hand on my shoulder. “Nettie’s waiting in the car. We have a long drive ahead of us.”

As we’re leaving, she nods and smiles at the mourners—mostly people from our church and a few of the cafeteria ladies from my school, the ones Mama worked with until the cancer ate away so much of her that she had to take to her bed. She stops to thank our across-the-hall neighbor, Mrs. McGillveray, for taking care of me after Mama died. Then she nudges me toward the shiny black Mercedes that’s waiting by the cemetery gate.

“Don’t!” she says when we’re out of earshot. “It’s bad luck to look back at a grave. I’m sure your mother taught you that.”

My mother taught me lots of things, I think while we’re on our way to that car. She taught me how to knit and crochet and clean a house like a professional. How to budget money so there’ll still be a little left at the end of the month. And she taught me how her father disowned her because she had disgraced the family name. He changed his will so that Aunt Paulina got the house and all the money after he and my grandmother died in a car crash. She taught me how Aunt Paulina was in love with my father even after he married Mama, and how she’d martyred herself as a lonely spinster because of it.

And Mama tried to teach me to turn the other cheek when Aunt Paulina refused to part with a penny to pay the doctor and the hospital when Mama first discovered the lump in her breast. Maybe she could forgive her sister’s revenge, but I’m an eye-for-an-eye kind of person and I have made a promise to myself. Someday I’m going to make her pay for what she did.

Copyright © 2006 by Bonnie Shimko

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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  • Posted November 2, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Cana Rensberger for TeensReadToo.com

    A week before her thirteenth birthday, Kat loses her mother to cancer and becomes an orphan. You would think she would be relieved to have an aunt take her in. Especially a very rich aunt. You would think that, and you would be very wrong. Indeed, Kat's one wish is to see her aunt dead. <BR/><BR/>Kat's mother worked for meager earnings. She taught Kat how to sew, how to cook, and how to be frugal. She taught her how to love, and how to forgive even the most unforgivable as Kat sat at her mother's bedside after another of her father's beatings. Her mother said he couldn't help it. It was the orphanage's fault. It damaged him. <BR/><BR/>But her mother's death? That was her aunt's fault. Kat's mother worked in the school cafeteria until the cancer got so bad she couldn't bear it anymore. Because of Aunt Paulina, Kat's mother died in their tiny apartment, with only Kat to care for her, instead of in a hospital where drugs could have relieved her pain. Rich, stingy Aunt Paulina, the aunt who inherited all the family money after her mom was disowned, spent more money on the funeral than it would have cost to pay for her mother to have a life-saving operation. <BR/><BR/>There's nowhere else for Kat to go. Forced to live with her mother's sister, Kat promises to make her pay. She begins to make good on that promise when Aunt Paulina says, "I'd like you to call me Mother." Kat makes her feelings clear and sets the tone of their relationship by responding, "I'd rather be thrown off a cliff, burning alive, than to call you my mama's name." <BR/><BR/>If I leave you thinking that KAT'S PROMISE is just another book about a mother dying and the bitterness that follows, then I have done you, the reader, and Bonnie Shimko, the author, a grave disservice. This book is so much more. Kat discovers a history of family secrets that give her a deeper understanding of both the sisters, as well as her father. She bonds with Nettie, Aunt Paulina's harassed housekeeper. And she finds purpose in helping a neighbor regain his love for life. <BR/><BR/>Ms. Shimko uses Beamer, Kat's new best friend, and Johnny, the neighbor's grandson, to add light to the story. And there are many other sweet moments that I'll let you discover. The writing will delight you, especially the brilliant descriptions. I absolutely could not put this book down once I started it, and I was sad to say good-bye to Kat, especially when things were going so well. I do not doubt that the characters will stay with me and I'll want to read this book again. For that reason, I give KAT'S PROMISE a gold star.

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