by Minrose Gwin

Overview: In the aftermath of a devastating tornado that rips through the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, at the height of the Great Depression, two women worlds apart—one black, one white; one a great-grandmother, the other a teenager—fight for their families’ survival in this lyrical and powerful novel.

A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a massive funnel cloud flashing a giant fireball and roaring like a runaway train careened into the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people, not counting an unknown number of black citizens, one-third of Tupelo’s population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.

When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung by the terrifying winds into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family—her hardworking husband, Virgil, her clever sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Dreama, and Promise, Dreama’s beautiful light-skinned three-month-old son.

Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs’ dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she’s found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him.

During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them. Drawing on historical events, Minrose Gwin beautifully imagines natural and human destruction in the deep South of the 1930s through the experiences of two remarkable women whose lives are indelibly connected by forces beyond their control. A story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race, Promise reminds us of the transformative power and promise that come from confronting our most troubled relations with one another.

Deanna Boe (12/06/18): The title is what grabbed my attention at the library, I knew nothing about the author, nor did I know anything about the tornado that hit Tupelo, Mississippi on Palm Sunday in 1936. It is a novel but based on a real situation. I was excited to read this book; unfortunately it was a major disappointment. I will tell you upfront I will give it a two, whereas other reviews I have read about this book simply loved it! The writing was trite, and the author seemed to repeat things far too often. The two main characters didn’t seem believable, in fact most of them weren’t. This book had a great opportunity to tell about race relations in Mississippi back in 1936 (and perhaps hasn’t changed all that much today.) The black community lived up on a hill and their homes were poorly constructed so the tornado left little standing in that area. Whereas where the white people lived their homes survived in somewhat better shape. Saying that, the author does point out how the white people in Tupelo did feel about blacks whereas the Red Cross workers and the CCC who came from elsewhere showed more compassion.

I rarely skip paragraphs or even pages when I read a book that I have started, but I did often in this book. The author kept repeating things, or drawing out what was happening in an unbelievable way. The way she presented the Father was nothing short but incredible, even though it was hinted at how he had a black mistress he obviously was more concerned about then his wife (who lost a leg), his daughter who had a broken arm and had found supposedly “their” baby in a bush. In short, the book rambled whereas I feel the book had a great opportunity to actually tell us about this tornado, the outside help that did come, and how families were affected and survived. The actual pictures at the end of the book were the most interesting part.
Rating: **

Faith Bowers (06/06/18): Promise is the name of the son born from the rape victim Dreama. Two families are intertwined through violence and work. The 1936 Tupelo MS tornado destroyed much of the city including all the African American communities. This story is about surviving the tornado and how these two families help each other during this tragedy and save each other. Gwin writes beautifully, sharing all the characters' stories before and during the tornado tragedy. I look forward to reading her earlier novel.
Rating: ****

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