The Promise Between Us

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From the bestselling author of The Perfect Son comes a hopeful tale of redemption, renewal, and the promise of love.

Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie. Nine years ago she ran away from her family in Raleigh, North Carolina, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her, and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.

But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?

To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibility of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.

Reviews of The Promise Between Us

“If you leave your newborn child because you have unstoppable thoughts of harming her, are you a good mother or a terrible one? This dilemma is at the heart of Barbara Claypole White’s novel, a wrenching story of how one woman’s OCD has a ripple effect on those around her—including the people she tried hardest to protect. This is an eye-opening and realistic exploration of mental illness—a topic that greatly deserves to be front and center.”
- Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things

“Barbara Claypole White does not merely write about people with mental illness—she inhabits them; she IS Katelyn, the young mother overcome with images of killing her new baby, the mother who leaves her baby to keep her safe . . . Later White IS that same child, Maisie, now beginning to struggle with OCD herself—and all Maisie’s worries, all her thoughts and the details of her pre-teen life are precisely, exactly right. Perfect. White knows how to tell a story, too, how to fully create each additional realistic and fascinating character, and also how to increase suspense as the family drama unfolds. This brilliant novel about obsessive compulsive disorder is compulsively readable.”
- Lee Smith, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Girls

“In The Promise Between Us, bestselling author Barbara Claypole White explores survival, shame, and above all, compassion. With the deft hand of a true artist, she creates complex characters, whose lives have been ravaged by mental illness—when it goes unchecked and through its tumultuous effect on generations of women from one family. Readers will be drawn into Katie Mack’s world; they’ll root for her and her daughter, Maisie. The Promise Between Us redefines motherhood and sacrifice, delivering a heartfelt story with a powerful message.”
- Laura Spinella, bestselling author of the Ghost Gifts trilogy and Unstrung

“Barbara Claypole White knocks it out of the park with her latest family saga, The Promise Between Us. In this riveting page-turner, Claypole White digs deep into the intricacies of her characters’ lives and the devastating effects of a mental illness when left unchecked. It can easily be classified as a story about motherhood, family, and sacrifice. But mostly, it’s a tale of love, redemption, and renewal. The Promise Between Us has something for everyone: suspense, romance, and even a hint of mystery. A fast-paced read that captivates from the first word until the last. A definite book club selection that I highly recommend.”
- Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal and Amazon Kindle bestselling author of Everything We Keep

“In The Promise Between Us, Barbara Claypole White masters the art of bringing a reader up close and personal to the influences and forces of a mental illness. In this powerhouse of a story, Katelyn MacDonald’s decision to give up the precious gift of raising her baby, Maisie, in order to protect her, makes for a compelling page-turner. This is an in-depth portrayal of what it means to live in a world where every single thought or action comes into question; it is a story for the times, a story filled with stark realities; but most important of all, it is a story about hope, healing, and the strength of a mother’s love.”
- Donna Everhart, USA Today bestselling author of The Education of Dixie Dupree

“With The Promise Between Us, Barbara Claypole White gives us compelling characters and wonderfully complex relationships to shed important light on too little known, too little discussed challenges of mental illness.”
- Laurie Frankel, bestselling author of This Is How It Always Is

“Some books make you stop and think, and compel you to examine your own perceptions, how you feel about an issue. The Promise Between Us is such a book. The complication at the heart of the story is riveting: suffering symptoms of postpartum OCD that could lead to her harming her newborn, a young mother does what would be unthinkable for most new mothers. She leaves her baby in order to protect her. Is it the right decision? As the consequences continue to ripple out over the next several years, lives are unraveled and rebuilt in ways that are surprising, sometimes painful, often joyful. Combining elements of suspense and romance with laugh-out-loud doses of wonderful humor for leavening, this is ultimately a story about the redemptive power of love. This is Barbara Claypole White at her finest.”
- Barbara Taylor Sissel, author of The Truth We Bury

The story behind the story for The Promise Between Us

Since writing The Unfinished Garden, I’ve wanted to revisit OCD with a story about the impact of anxiety on relationships. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is so destructive, so twisted, so relentless, and yet there’s a popular misconception it’s about hand washing and the anal organization of sock drawers. Even though I’ve been married to someone with OCD for nearly thirty years and our grown son has battled OCD since he was four, my learning curve continues—sometimes in ways that are heartbreaking.

Many of us in the OCD community are active in confidential support groups. Someone in one of those groups talked about her battles with pedophile OCD, and her comments were leaked to her employer. She was fired. Her story haunted me for months and led me to think about the darkest corners of OCD, the ones that still carry unbearable shame.

Meanwhile, I was chewing on an old story idea—one I couldn’t quite ditch—about a single dad whose wife had run away when his daughter was a baby. His daughter, now a teen, hit a mental health crisis, and through her journey, he discovered his wife had struggled with the same illness. When I showed the synopsis to my brilliant creative writing major son, he highlighted one sentence—scratched out the rest—and said, “That’s your story, Mom.” I had found my premise: Can you be a good mother if you abandoned your baby? Then I started researching postpartum OCD, which often manifests as violent thoughts and images (commonly referred to as harm OCD).

After the name Maisie MacDonald popped into my head and stuck, I had a sense of her parents’ heritage and started fleshing out their backstories. Key elements came from strange places. At a Raleigh book club, one reader asked why I always write about UNC and Duke, but not NC State, which led to Callum’s job. And I found Katie at the hairdresser’s. I was admiring a piece of artwork in the salon when the wonderful stylist Angela Goldman said, “You should meet the artist, Jackie MacLeod. She’s a girlie welder.” That phrase did it: girlie welder. The next day I emailed Jackie and discovered the Liberty Arts Sculpture Studio & Foundry in Durham. Around the same time, I had a day to kill in Raleigh and went to the CAM, where I discovered the docent program. (And the Videri Chocolate Factory.) Bingo!

As always, I enjoyed finding and excavating my secondary characters. Jake was inspired by a photo of the actor Gabriel Byrne; Lilah came out of a conversation with a friend about the problems of being a stepmom; and Ben grew out of my fascination with a local sculptor, famous for his work in metals and motion.

The final piece of the story came after my writing buddy Sheryl Cornett invited me to give a talk at her church. That evening three young people shared stories of struggling with mental illness without access to affordable health insurance, which triggered a new story angle. I already knew Callum struggled with anxiety, but as I researched the reason why, I found many parallels between Callum’s backstory and Katie’s. One parallel in particular caught my attention: I realized that while lack of money prevented Katie from seeing a therapist, shame achieved the same result for Callum. They both tackled their problems without professional help, and the marriage had suffered as a result. Finally I had circled back to my original idea: I was writing a story about the impact of anxiety on a relationship.

To arrange a visit with your book club, in person or via Skype, please contact me at bclaypolewhite@gmail.com.

Reading Group Guide Coming Jan. 16, 2018.

The Promise Between Us listening guide:

“Coma White” - Marilyn Manson
“Through Glass” - Stone Sour                                
“Seasons (Waiting on You)” - Future Islands                 
“Like a Rolling Stone” - Green Day                                    
“Dear Alyssa” - The Arcadian Project                              
“The Hourglass” - The Arcadian Project                         
“Colors”  - Coheed and Cambria                                       
“Dream of the Sea” - The Arcadian Project                                
“Euphoria” -  Polyphia                               
“Runaway”  - The National           
“Nightmare”  - Polyphia                                                     
“The Ghost of You” - My Chemical Romance                  
“Stay Awake” - The Arcadian Project                              
“A Different Point of View” - Pet shop Boys                                            
“Oblivious (Moretti Remix)” - The Strokes                        
 “S-C-A-R-E-C-R-O-W” - My Chemical Romance                         
“With or Without You” - Our Last night                           
“Left Behind”  - The Arcadian Project
“On and On and On”- Jack White                                     
“Childhood Courtesy” - Dead Sara
“Tomkins Square Park” - Mumford & Sons
“This Losing” - The Airborne Toxic Event          
“I Don’t Care” - Apocalyptica                                            
“Creep” - Radiohead                                                          
“There Will Be Time” - Mumford & Sons  & Baaba Maal          
“Souvenir” - Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark                     
“Everlasting Neverendless” - Echo & the Bunnymen    
“Hallelujah” - Jeff Buckley                                                
“Si Tu Veux” - Mumford & Sons & Baaba Maal 
“Guilty Party” - The National                                             
“Now the Storm Comes” - The Arcadian Project
“I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” - My Chemical Romance    
“Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” - U2
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” - Green Day
“Someone Somewhere in the Summertime” - Simple Minds Accoustic         
“Time to be a Man” - The Airborne Toxic Event                       
“Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen
“Wona” - Mumford & Sons  & Baaba Maal
“This is How the Story Ends” - The Arcadian Project
“Beautiful Day” - U2