How could I have guessed when I signed on to read and review an advance reading copy of Rory’s Promise by Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols that I would actually meet the authors before I wrote the review? This historical fiction, set in the 1800s orphan world of New York City and an Arizona mining community, draws the reader into Rory’s struggle.
Sandwiched between my reading the book and writing my review, the writers showed up at the Highlights retreat I attended. The book was published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, and edited by Carolyn Yoder, the leader of our retreat.
The first bit of wonder for retreat participants came in their unique personal relationship since Rosemary is Michaela’s former stepmother, divorced from her father. As writers, we also joined in awe and questioned how they could partner to turn out this fascinating story. Most of us could not imagine writing with somebody else, especially something fictional. The short answer is Micheala is the story person and Rosemary is the historical person, but each delves into the other’s side. We heard about a complicated process between the two of them that included fourteen editorial passes with Carolyn.
The story is well worth the trouble as Rory finagles her way through difficulties that pile on and increase as she tries to keep her promise never to forsake her younger sister. Grasping for a bit of status, Rory and her sister Vi classify themselves as foundlings, which they think puts them in a bit better light with their parents dead, in contrast to the orphans abandoned by destitute mothers.
The difficult journey out West where Anglo and Mexican parents fight over babies they want to adopt is based on well-researched material and includes bits of true stories. Slight historical changes to fit the story are listed in back matter in the author’s note. The authors assured us the truth was in many ways even harder than the fiction they wrote.
Up until the final pages, I feared there was no way for the book to come to a satisfactory close. Rory’s Promise is written for middle grade and up. Note that “up” has no lid. If you love a good historical novel, this book is for you. I had come to that conclusion even before I met the delightful authors.