The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry

Disclaimer: The Promise of Jesse Woods, by Chris Fabry, was provided by Tyndale in exchange for an honest review.

While the Vietnam War rages overseas and his beloved Pirates battle for back-to-back World Series titles, Matt Plumley’s family moves to Dogwood, West Virginia, where he quickly bonds with two unlikely friends for a preacher’s kid: Dickie Darrel Lee Hancock, a mixed-race boy, and Jesse Woods, a tough-as-nails Appalachian girl. As the trio traipses the hills and hollers, Matt falls for Jesse, and their promises to each other draw him deeper into her terrifying reality. One night, the river of Jesse’s secrets overflows and Matt joins her in a rescue that saves one life and ends another…and mysteriously severs the bond of their friendship. Years later, Matt is pulled back to Dogwood, haunted by memories of that momentous summer and news of Jesse’s upcoming wedding. He always suspected there was more to the story of that fateful night, and he’s determined to learn the truth behind the only promise Jesse Woods ever broke.

My rating: 4/5

Fabry manages to pull off not one, but two bait-and-switches with The Promise of Jesse Woods. I was sure going in that 1.) I knew how the story would end and 2.) I knew “what happened that summer.” And while I was partially right in both cases, Fabry twists it around and makes the obvious not-so-obvious after all.

That does mean, though, that the actual truth behind “what happened that summer” is a bit of a let-down, at least in my opinion. I was so sure I knew what had happened and how it affected the characters that when the moment actually arrived, I thought “Wait, that’s it?” In addition, I thought some of the things that followed from that reveal didn’t hold a lot of water in terms of realisticness. However, the red herrings are fantastic, and it’s easy to see, once you’ve realized the trick, just how Fabry shapes your mind into thinking one thing happened and then twists it around on you last minute.

Plot things aside, though, the gem of this book is characterization. Jesse will make you cheer for her strength and cry for her suffering. Matt is slightly less developed, but the lessons he learns are important ones. Each character stands out, a hard thing to do in a book with so many small-town characters, and everything they do is believable, especially at the end.

And, even if the ending didn’t quite turn out the way I thought it would, I thought it fit with the characters and the way the story was going. It makes more sense for the novel to end the way it did than for it to end the way I thought it would. The Promise of Jesse Woods, though not absolutely perfect, is a heartwarming, tearjerker gem of a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

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