Spencer Price is your typical teenager. She’s concerned about her grades; she can’t wait to be done with high school; she fights with her twin brother; and she’s awkward around boys. The one thing she’s got going for her is her best friend Molly Blackstone. They’ve been besties since they were nine years old, and they’re inseparable.
Spencer’s a little in love with Molly. She’s the center of Spencer’s universe. Afterall, Molly has always helped her be a better person. She’s given her tips on how to cover up her unflattering figure and remained friends with Spencer even though, in Molly’s opinion, she’s decidedly uncool. All the cruel and abusive things Molly’s told Spencer have been for her own good and the good of their friendship. Spencer realizes Molly can be harsh, but Molly needs her. At least, that’s what she tells Spencer. After the nights Molly has her horrible nightmares, she needs Spencer the most. Spencer doesn’t like the things Molly asks her to do in bed, but she loves Molly, and isn’t that what best friends do?
One day, Jordan Rohan kisses Spencer at school. His kiss is okay, but it’s nothing like the kisses she shares with Molly.
Soon, Spencer finds out there was more to that kiss than she first thought, and Molly is hiding secrets from her that are far more dangerous than Spencer suspected. As Spencer struggles to come to terms with her sexuality and the real nature of her relationship with Molly, she begins to question the promises they made in the past. Should love be wrapped up in shame and fear?
Spencer has spent most of her life trying to make Molly content. As she begins to distance herself from Molly, Molly’s actions become more reckless and menacing. By the time Spencer figures out what she needs to be happy and live authentically, it might be too late. Pursuing her independence could bring death, not only to herself but to those in her future.
Spencer and Molly’s friendship is unhealthy in so many aspects. It would have been easy for Bird to write Spencer as purely good and Molly as purely evil. Instead, Bird goes to great lengths to give the reader a complex view into what’s made each of them the young women we meet as they’re becoming young adults.
It would be impossible not to identify with Spencer. The color of her skin, her sexual orientation, her gender identification are uniquely her, but there are aspects to her character that are universal. She wants to be loved. She wants to be seen. She’s awkward, and she feels trapped in circumstances beyond her control. She’s been manipulated by Molly for so long, it’s hard for her to see herself as a victim of abuse. She’s aware that Molly uses her, but she can’t separate her own feelings of low self-worth from Molly’s abuse. Spencer desperately wants to break free from the insidious cycle, but she’s a kind soul, and she realizes her actions could have a ripple effect that touches everyone she loves. Above all else, she’s courageous. Once she takes her first step toward autonomy from Molly, there’s no turning back. She continued to surprise me over and over. I cried for her; I cheered for her; and in the end, I celebrated her.
Molly is so evil. Her presence in any scene gives it a malevolent feel without her uttering a word. It’s painful at times to watch her manipulate Spencer especially when it comes to the sex acts they participate in. At first, it was easy to see all her actions as malicious, but Bird doesn’t allow her character to be simply one dimensional. As the reader makes their way through the book and learns more about what makes Molly tick, it’s clear she’s just as multifaceted as Spencer. There’s no doubt she qualifies for a number of clinical diagnoses. It also becomes apparent she’s had her share of emotional abuse heaped on her. A part of me loathed her, but another part felt sorry for her. I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d be such a monster if she’d received psychological help early on in life. One thing’s for sure, Molly’s one of the most chilling villains I’ve encountered in a thriller. She may not be a serial killer, but she’s next level wicked.
The Writing Style
This story is told in third person from Spencer’s point of view. This is as it should be since it’s a thriller. We only have as much information as Spencer does at any given moment. Bird does an amazing job exploring the warring emotions going on within Spencer. The teenage years can be fraught with so much uncertainty, and Bird captures this beautifully. The dialogue between the teens is realistic and shows the struggles they go through in debating how vulnerable they are willing to be as they figure out who they are.
The plot is paced to perfection. I knew from the blurb that The Book of Promises is a thriller, but I began reading it with the focus on it being a YA novel. A sinister air begins to form the moment the reader sees how Molly and Spencer interact. Let’s just say it’s not good, and it sets the stage for a narrative that slowly increases in tension in very disturbing ways. I was uneasy and fearful for Spencer, and while I thought I knew how the plot should be resolved, Bird took it in a direction I couldn’t have dreamed of. I was shocked, and I loved it.
The Book of Promises is filled with a fantastic cast of supporting characters. They add another detailed layer to the complex plot, and they each play a pivotal role in Spencer’s character arc. Jordan starts out as Spencer’s fake boyfriend. She doesn’t trust him, but when he reveals that he is Ace, they soon become fast friends. Jordan’s sister is a trans woman, and she becomes a mentor to Spencer. Deja, Spencer’s love interest, is out and proud. I loved that Bird filled the book with such grounded and inclusive characters.
If it’s not clear by now, this book deals with situations that might be serious triggers for some readers. The story deals with emotionally and physically abusive relationships between teens, between adults, and within families. The book also depicts scenes involving the dangerous sexual practice known as autoerotic asphyxiation.
The Book of Promises took my breath away. The story is staggering in its psychological complexity. The writing is phenomenal. Bird’s character work and exploration of Spencer’s hopes, fears, and insecurities is profound. I could empathize with Spencer and her life experiences because Bird infused her with a vulnerability and goodness that had me focused on our similarities rather than our differences. There are moments that are brutal as well as those that are life affirming. The plot twist toward the end of the story knocked me for such a loop I gasped aloud. I’m a diehard romance fan, yet this YA thriller is going to be the book I’ll still be talking about years from now. I encourage you to check out this riveting novel.
Excerpt from The Book of Promises by Tammy Bird
She thought about her pact with Molly to buy the house when they were old enough—so “nothing ever comes between us again.” Those were Molly’s words. Spencer just agreed. She agreed because she would die if she didn’t see Molly every day for the rest of her life. She agreed because when they were nine and held hands walking to the bus stop, the wetness of her palm mixing with the wetness of Molly’s palm made it hard to swallow and harder to think.
Nine years later, she would still do anything for Molly. Over the last few years, though, the connection became more strained. Tension between them continued to grow, and more and more it was over stupid stuff. Like boys. Spencer thought Molly wanted her to kiss Jordan, or a boy, any boy, so why was she acting like the kiss broke some promise between them? Not being as connected would be easier—and harder.
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Bits and Bobs
ISBN number: 978-1949096255
Publisher: Flashpoint Publications
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Note: I received a free review copy of The Book of Promises by Tammy Bird. No money was exchanged for this review. When you use our links to buy we get a small commission which supports the running of this site.