Every child prodigy grows up eventually. For the Promise sisters, escaping their mother’s narcissism and the notoriety that came with her bestselling book hasn’t been easy. Minerva Promise claimed that her three “test tube” daughters—gifted pianist Joanie, artistic Meg, and storyteller Avery—were engineered and molded to be geniuses. In adulthood, their modest lives fall far short of her grand ambitions. But now, twenty years after the book’s release, she hopes to redeem herself by taking part in a new documentary.
Meg, who hasn’t picked up a paintbrush in years, adamantly refuses to participate, until a car accident leaves her with crushing medical bills. While she recuperates in Seattle, the three sisters reluctantly meet with filmmaker Hal Seeger, another former prodigy. Like them, he’s familiar with the weight of failed potential. But as he digs deeper, he uncovers secrets they’ve hidden from each other—and a revelation that will challenge their beliefs, even as it spurs them to forge their own extraordinary lives at last.
“Reading Marie Bostwick is like wrapping yourself up in a warm, hand-crafted quilt. Her books, rich in character and plot, are stitched together by a skilled wordsmith.” —Debbie Macomber, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“THE PROMISE GIRLS is a beautiful story about the ties that bind—love, laughter, memories, even secrets kept so long they become a part of the fabric of a family. Marie Bostwick exquisitely tells the tale of the three Promise girls, former child prodigies who learn to heal the scars of a bitter past so that they can love—and forgive—again.” —Melanie Benjamin, New York Times Best Selling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
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The Promise Girls
By MARIE BOSTWICK
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Marie Bostwick
All rights reserved.
1996 Chicago, Illinois
The studio lights are glaringly bright and white-hot.
A disembodied voice from the loudspeaker announces, "One minute to air," in the way Joanie imagines the autopilot of a doomed spaceship might announce, "One minute to impact." Everyone in the studio — audience, host, and guests — goes instantly and utterly silent, waiting for what comes next.
Three weeks into the book tour, Joanie still isn't used to the silence of televisions studios, ponderous silence that feels like being closed in a concrete box with walls so thick no noise from the outside world can penetrate, just as no sound emanating inside can escape. Joanie can scream as loud as she wants and no one will hear her.
Joanie, Meg, Avery, and their mother sit in upholstered side chairs, like the ones you see in the waiting rooms of doctor's offices, motionless, waiting. Avery is so little her feet can't touch the floor, but she doesn't kick her legs or even fidget.
The audience is still as well. They stare at Joanie and her little sisters in a way that makes her think about people at the zoo staring through the glass at the reptile house, waiting for the snakes to do something interesting.
Soon they will — she will. If she doesn't lose her nerve.
The voice comes again, droning "Ten seconds." Joanie feels a bead of sweat along her hairline. She lifts her hand to wipe it away, but catches sight of her mother's eyes. She puts her hand back into her lap, feels the bead trickle down her forehead, into the crevice behind her ear, dropping onto her dress collar.
The floor director, dressed in black, counts down the final five seconds on his fingers and points at the host, whose smile appears out of nowhere.
"We're back. Today we're discussing child prodigies. We'll be meeting children and teens whose remarkable achievements in the arts, sciences, mathematics, and business can't help but make us reconsider our preconceived notions about the limits of human intelligence and even the nature of childhood itself. It also brings up long-debated questions about what matters most in tapping the depth of human potential. Nature? Or nurture?
"In her newly released book, The Promise Girls, our first guest, Minerva Promise, mother of three artistic prodigies, argues that nature and nurture play equally important roles in fostering genius. Please welcome Minerva Promise and her daughters, Joanie, Meg, and Avery — the Promise Girls."
The audience, happy to have a role to play and eager to approve of anything put forth by their host, one of the wealthiest, most famous, and most trusted women in America, claps enthusiastically. When the applause begins to fade, the host asks her first question.
"Minerva Promise, most expectant parents are happy just to have healthy children, but when your daughters were born, and even before they were conceived, you made it your goal to raise three highly accomplished artists — a pianist, a painter, and a writer."
Minerva, who has been nodding in agreement while the host speaks, smiles. "That's right. My daughters were given expert artistic instruction as soon as they were capable of creating on their own. Joanie received her first piano lessons at two and a half. Meg began painting — with her fingers, of course — even before that. Avery is only five, so she can't yet write sentences, but she creates and dictates remarkably complex stories. Even as babies, my girls were intentionally and intensely exposed to great music, art, and literature to tap their natural creativity."
"And yet," the host comments, her brow furrowing, "some have said there is nothing natural in your methods. You didn't just encourage your daughters, but engineered them with the specific intention to raise prodigies in three separate areas of the arts. Is that true?"
Minerva frowns, but in a way that will not make her appear any less attractive on camera.
"I think 'engineered' makes it all sound a lot more Mary Shelley than was actually the case. I'm no Dr. Frankenstein." She flashes a maternal smile to prove it. The audience chuckles. "However, I did take advantage of technological advances to conceive and bear children with a higher likelihood of achievement in the arts.
"As a single woman with infertility issues that made conception by natural means or even by artificial insemination impossible, I feared I would never have children. But when Louise Brown was born —"
"The first test tube baby," the host clarifies, "born in England in 1978."
"Yes," Minerva says. "She was the first baby born via in vitro fertilization, in which the egg is fertilized in a laboratory and then implanted into the mother's womb. Soon afterward, I went to Europe to undergo the procedure, choosing donor sperm from an anonymous classical pianist for my first child, Joanie, and a gifted painter for my second girl, Meg." She smiles affectionately at her daughters, who smile back. "By the time Avery was born, in vitro was widely available in the U.S., so I ..."
Joanie stops listening. The press packet prepared by their publicist and sent ahead of each interview has suggested questions written out in advance. The host has written her own questions, but Joanie knows more or less what will come next — the pseudo-serious discussion of pseudoscientific theories, the host's gentle chiding about the social and moral implications of designer babies ... It was pretty much the same every time.
Only a few questions will be directed toward Joanie or her sisters and those will be softballs — easy inquiries about the artists they admire most, what their average day is like, if they have time to play and have friends like "normal" kids, possibly a cheeky question about whether or not Joanie has a boyfriend — questions formulated to make them seem like other children, which they are not.
Other children don't get paraded out to perform like monkeys at the circus, stared at like snakes in the Reptile House, like freaks in a sideshow. Even now, as the grown-ups talk about the children as if they aren't there or can't hear, the audience keeps sneaking furtive glances at them. The boy in the front row, the geeky math whiz who tried to talk to her in the green room, is staring at them outright, at her, and has been the whole time.
Like the others, he probably wants to know what the big deal is about them, about her. Are they as genius as Momma claims? Joanie doubts it. Meg is different perhaps, the only true genius in the room. But they all work very hard, Momma too.
The Promise Girls — the children and the book — are Momma's life's work, the only means she had of making a living, for all of them. Having just turned seventeen, Joanie is old enough to understand about money and the need of it. That's why she agreed to go along with this, to be the one whose job it is to prove that Momma is telling the truth and has successfully and intentionally raised prodigious artists.
Avery is too little to be anything but adorable, though she absolutely is and enjoys the attention. But being adorable doesn't prove the success of the experiment, does it? Meg can't produce a painting on demand in an eight-minute television segment. Even if she could, she's too timid. She hates being stared at, being judged by strangers. Just sitting here is agony for her.
It is for Joanie, too, but she can bear it better. She must because she's the oldest. It's her job to protect the little ones, and so she agreed to this. For three weeks. It was supposed to be over by now. The publicist said that three weeks after a book is released, the public will lose interest. Unless you are on this show.
Apparently, it is a very big deal. Joanie wouldn't have known unless someone told her — they don't own a television. But because the host read Momma's book and decided to do a show built around them at the last minute, now everyone wants them. Paula, the publicist, is booking them three months out. Three months.
Joanie hadn't agreed to that. None of them had.
Avery is turning into a brat, starting to act out because she thinks the others are getting more attention. Momma has threatened to spank her even though Avery knows her mother would never lay a hand on Avery, on any of them. Momma has a sinus infection. Joanie has a cold. All of them are exhausted. When it began they were excited because the hotels have swimming pools. Now they are too tired to use them.
Meg is suffering the most. She woke up crying this morning, has headaches every day, all day. She's anxious all the time, too nervous to eat.
Meg is suffering. Can't they see that? Someone has to put a stop to it.
The first segment is over. A stagehand comes to escort Joanie, but she knows what she is supposed to do. She gets up from her chair and goes to the piano on the far side of the stage. She will play her usual piece, Liebestraum No. 3, by Liszt. When she is done, she will go back to the chairs with the others. The host will ask the softball questions while pictures of Meg's paintings flash onto the big screen at the back of the stage.
Then it will be over. Except it won't be. Not unless someone puts a stop to it.
The commercial break ends. The cameras roll again. The host introduces her and Joanie begins to play.
How many times has she played the Liebestraum? The "Dream of Love"? Hundreds, certainly. Thousands, maybe. Yet she never tires of it. Maestro Boehm has taught her to see mystery in every note, to understand that every time she plays, no matter how familiar the notes, chords, and arpeggios become, the music can reveal something new to her, and in her, if she will release herself to it.
But today is not one of those days. She is not playing very well. Not badly, but not well. She has learned that television audiences don't know the difference; it's not like playing at a competition. But surely even they will notice the mistake she has planned, timing it to occur during the change from arpeggios to chords, where someone might easily trip up. If she goes through with it, makes this mistake on purpose, they'll see that she's not a prodigy at all, just a lazy, mediocre girl, a failed experiment, and they'll send her home. They'll send all of them home.
Will Maestro Boehm forgive her? Will Momma?
But someone has to put a stop to it; Momma should have already. When Paula started talking about booking three months out, Momma should have said, "I'm sorry, we're done. It's enough." But she didn't and now Joanie doesn't know if she'll be able to forgive her, ever, for forcing her to do this, for leaving her no choice.
Here they come, two bars away now, the chords.
Joanie's eyes shift to the far side of the stage, ignoring the suspicion she sees in her mother's eyes. Joanie looks at the keyboard and makes her fingers stumble, or seem to stumble. She frowns, pretending to be perturbed, flustered. Then she pretends to recover herself and plays the end of the piece perfectly.
The final notes fade away. Joanie lifts her hands from the keyboard and stands up as the audience applauds. Her cheeks feel hot. She knows she doesn't deserve their adulation and doesn't understand why they don't realize this, but she curtsies because that's the procedure, that's what you do after a performance. Momma always says, "It's one thing to make a mistake, another to let people see it."
The host crosses the stage to meet her. The audience claps even louder when she folds Joanie into a congratulatory embrace before leading her back to the chairs.
Momma stands up as if to greet her. Her lips are pressed into a thin line and her eyes are two cold gray mirrors. She draws back her arm and slaps her daughter across the face with such power that the sound is like the crack of wood against leather when a batter swings away and hits one into the bleachers.
The audience gasps as if they are one person and then, just for a breath, falls into shocked silence. They can't quite believe what they have just seen, can't believe that the mother of these brilliant children who has been making the rounds of all the talk shows, including this one, hosted by the empress of them all, has just slapped her daughter while the cameras rolled.
But Joanie is not surprised. She expected ... well, not this. But something like it. She knew Momma would be angry.
Joanie totters a step, feeling off-balance. She removes her hand from her cheek, exposing the angry red imprint of her mother's hand. The crowd gasps again. They see the evidence of Minerva's wrath.
And then ... pandemonium. It all happens so fast.
The host grabs Joanie, pulls her close, calls for security. Within seconds, two security guards grab hold of Minerva, clasping her arms, limp at the elbow. Two black-clad producers appear from the wings, swooping down on Meg and Avery. Avery is sobbing, crying for her mother and Joanie at the same time. Meg is crying, too, but no sound comes out of her mouth even though her eyes are streaming with tears and her face is contorted. There are cries and boos. People calling their mother names — terrible, terrible names. Others are calling for 911, for the police.
The floor director shouts, "Cut!" The red lights on the cameras go dark. The security guards are dragging Minerva off into the wings. Another of the black-clad strangers grabs hold of Joanie's arms and pulls her in another direction, away from her mother, away from her sisters, too, separating them like four points of a compass, to the end of the map of the world, the end of their world.
Joanie is crying now, too, louder than anyone, sobbing, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it! Let me play it again, please! I'll do it right this time, I promise. Please! Let me play it again!"
It does no good. She can scream as loud as she wants. No one hears.CHAPTER 2
2017 Seattle, Washington
March is the season of waiting in Seattle.
Rain drizzles down day after day in a dithering trickle, too hard for a sprinkle, too light for a deluge. The temperature, too, is indecisive. It's hard to know what to wear — coat, jacket, sweater, or shirtsleeves — so people tend to dress in layers, trying to prepare for anything, irritated that they need to. The skies are neutrally gray, refusing to make an endorsement or prediction. Everyone lives in suspense, waiting for the unveiling that, this year, could well pass them by, waiting for spring. Or something like it. Anything different would do, anything to break the monotony, and the tension, of waiting.
Meg Promise Hayes sat in the dining alcove that doubled as her home office, her desk heaped with papers, looking out the window. Mrs. LaRouche was tromping dutifully down the sidewalk, holding an umbrella in one hand and Punkin's leash in the other. Meg waved and then checked her e-mail, hoping there might be a message from the mortgage broker saying their new client's loan had been approved. She's unlikely to hear anything on a Saturday, but checks anyway. With Asher's winter work wrapping up, they really needed that job.
Finding nothing in her in-box, she went back to work. As usual, there were more bills than all the rest put together. It was discouraging. She sighed.
It wasn't Asher's fault that building Not So Big houses generated Not So Big profits, or that they never completely regained their footing after the recession. What bugged her was that he wasn't more concerned about it.
"We make enough to get by and can feel good about what we do. That's more than a lot of people can say. I've got no complaints."
That was Asher in a nutshell: no complaints. About anything.
After one look at those laughing eyes, Mrs. Hayes decided to name her son Asher, which means "happy" in Hebrew. It suited him. "Happy" was Asher's default mode and one of the reasons Meg fell for him so hard and so fast — that plus the dizzying, disorienting chemistry between them, an instantaneous attraction that was so thick you could have cut it with a knife.
Joanie still told the story of what happened when Meg moved to Seattle and Joanie introduced her little sister to Asher, a friend who was helping remodel her decrepit Capitol Hill bungalow. Joanie made lunch for the three of them and spent the whole time talking and talking, trying to fill the silence while Meg and Asher stared at each other across the table.
"The most awkward hour of my life," Joanie would say. "But I probably didn't need to say a word. For you two, there was nobody else in the room."
Excerpted from The Promise Girls by MARIE BOSTWICK. Copyright © 2017 Marie Bostwick. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved the characters in this book. The story was great. I read it in two days.
It's a Marie Bostwick, so it's very well written, the characters well rounded and the story captivating. Enjoyed it very much.
Family, forgiveness, love, laughter, food, and art - what a great combination! Our book club won copies of The Promise Girls by Marie Bostwick from our planning website, Bookmovement. I enjoyed this story. Reading it felt like I was being wrapped in a warm, comfortable quilt and being fed my favorite comfort foods. The Promise Girls was a feel-good read that is heartfelt, uplifting, and filled with insightful observations and comic gems (“If people came into the world as teenagers, the world would be filled with nothing but only children….”). I would not recommend this book to readers who prefer serious literature, but I would recommend it to readers looking for classic women’s fiction/chick-lit that is better than average. The novel focuses on the bonds of family and how they are not easily broken even in the face of tragedy and betrayal. The Promise Girls are three sisters who experience a difficult childhood but bond together to create fulfilling adult lives and ultimately learn the power of forgiveness and redemption. A central theme in the novel is choices and consequences. Minerva, the girls’ mother, states “of course, if I knew then what I know now, I would have done many things differently… but life isn’t like that. We make the choices we make, at the time we make them, and we have to live with them - and suffer the consequences.” I have felt like this on a number of occasions and I think discussing this idea with book club members would provide a deep and intimate conversation topic. One of the characters in the novel does get a “redo” in a sense. It is enlightening to see what she does with it and to contemplate what I would do with one. Creative and artistic talent in various forms is also a central idea in this novel. Each sister has their own creative talent and their perspective on it. For example, middle sister Meg states “that inside every person there is an artist waiting to get out … comparison, competition, and perfectionism - the toxic trifecta that is certain to corrode and, in time, destroy one’s God-given, joy filled, natural desire to create.” As I have a number of artists in my book club, I thought this would be an interesting topic to explore and discuss. Another passage worthy of discussion is when younger sister Avery states “People want to believe in what’s magical. Even adults. But it’s easier with children… Kids have faith. That’s our natural mindset, the thing that makes poets pen verse and inventors invent. But somewhere along the way, most grown-ups default to doubt.” Another topic worthy of exploration in this novel is being yourself. Many of the characters play a “role” in this story. Walt role-plays characters in historical reenactments, Avery takes on the persona of a mermaid, Joanie acts as everyone's mother, Minerva presents a public life story that differs from reality, and each of the Promise sisters plays an interesting but stereotypical birth order role. At one point, Avery indicates that it is easier to play a role than to be oneself. I think there are times when that is true and sometimes necessary. Those occasions and why/why not would make for a lively discussion as well. So even while this book appears to be an easy, comfortable read, there are some deep themes here that are worthy of exploration and discussion. The careful, thoughtful reader of this book will be rewarded.
Just finished reading Marie Bostwick's latest book - The Promise Girls. Her previous books always included quilting and quilters. Not this one. It turned out to be my other all time passion of family history research. Loved it! Her books are the greatest. If you haven't read any I suggest you get started. Thanks, Marie, for another good read.
The Promise Girls is the newest book by Marie Bostwick. The story begins in 1996 with Minerva Promise and her three girls on a national news talk show promoting her book. Joanie, Meg, and Avery were told the tour would only last three weeks but now it stretching out into months. Joanie knows she has to do something to stop it and take back their lives. But Joanie did not calculate how upset her mother would be with her and the repercussions. Twenty years later, the three girls are grown up and living in Seattle, Washington. None of the girls are living the careers their mother had planned for them. Meg has not been happy lately, and one day she receives out some very upsetting information. On the way to pick up her daughter, Trina, she receives a call from Minerva. Meg gets very upset and ends up running her car into a cement wall. Meg wakes up six days later without a memory of her family. The doctor believes her memory will return in time. In the meantime, medical bills have mounted up, and they need to find a way to pay them. Joanie decides she will agree to Hal Seeger’s request to make a documentary of their lives in exchange for the money the family needs for Meg’s medical expenses. All of them are reluctant to open up in front of the camera, but Hal is determined. Each sister discovers something about themselves and, ultimately, Minerva reveals the biggest secret of them all. While Meg’s accident was unfortunate, it just may be the best thing that has happened to the family. Join The Promise Girls on their journey of self-discovery. The Promise Girls is well-written and easy to read. I liked the characters. I found them all likeable and relatable. I love the setting of Seattle, Washington. How can you not love a city that has ferry boats? I was entertained by Asher’s occupation as a tiny home builder. It is turning into such a big movement in our country, and I have not seen it included in a novel previously. I give The Promise Girls 4 out of 5 stars. The secrets that are revealed at the end of the book are not revelations. I believe most readers will figure out Joanie and Minerva’s confidences long before they are disclosed. It was interesting to read about each woman’s journey. I really like Joanie’s occupation as a creator of costumes for reenactors. I imagined Ichabod Crane (of the show Sleepy Hollow) would appreciate her services (his last seamstress was murdered). While I enjoyed The Promise Girls, I did not feel it is not up to the standard of Marie Bostwick’s Cobbled Court Quilt series which I really loved (such wonderful, endearing characters). The Promise Girls, though, is a pleasurable story and a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.
I received an ARC of this book from Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review. I have been a long time reader of Marie Bostwick's books and I was excited to read her newest addition. This book did not disappoint. I read a lot of women's fiction and after awhile some of the stories can get stale or repetitive. That is definitely not the case with this book! The characters were very well written and likeable. I found the Promise sisters' story interesting and unique and I loved that there was a bit of a mystery to their life story. The truths that were unveiled had me flipping the pages rapidly to find out the answers. Highly recommend!
The Promise Girls by Marie Bostwick Child prodigies crafted in the womb for greatness, promised success, prodded by their mother...perfectly planned…then…everything changed when one of the Promise girls decided to be not so perfect on live TV. Twenty years later the story picks up to tell us what the Promise sisters are up to and how they are getting along. One is married, one is a single parent and the third is a mermaid. All have issues to deal with from their childhood. None of them are doing what their mother pushed them toward. The catalyst of a major life threatening accident and the need for money encourages the sisters to do a documentary that will tell the world what happened to “The Promise Girls” once they became adults. I was drawn into the story as I read and became invested in the outcome of each of the sisters. As revelations were made about what happened after the debacle on live TV and how it impacted each of the girls…I wished that their lives could have been different. Passion and promise are not the only things that create professional superstar status – there has to be drive and will and belief in oneself that the sisters seemed to lose at points in their lives. I will say that each thrived in her own way and that by the end of the book I felt that all three would eventually be able to enjoy their talents and gifts and realize the promise their lives held in store for the future. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the ARC. This is my honest review. 4.5 Stars