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The Things We Promise (J C Burke, A&U)

Gemma can’t wait for her brother Billy to return from New York. An up-and-coming hair and make-up artist, Billy has promised to help Gemma get ready for her school formal, and she just knows this will be the night her crush finally pays attention. But soon Gemma realises that there are things her mum isn’t sharing about Billy and his boyfriend Saul. And when Billy arrives home, there are far bigger things to worry about than what shade of lipstick to wear to the formal. Set in 1990 around the HIV/AIDS crisis, The Things We Promise is a heartbreaking examination of grief, love and prejudice from the perspective of 16-year-old Gemma, whose brother is HIV positive. Gemma is scared for her brother, scared for herself, and both angered and upset by the negative reactions of others. J C Burke uses a cast of deeply flawed, believable characters to explore this recent history in a way that focuses on the personal nature of such tragedy while still highlighting the devastating scope of the epidemic. Painfully honest, beautifully written and deeply important, this is a must-read for all teens aged 14 and up.

Meg Whelan is the children’s and young-adult book buyer at the Hill of Content Bookshop in Melbourne


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