43 pages 1 hour read

Christine Day

I Can Make This Promise

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


I Can Make This Promise is a 2019 middle grade novel by American author Christine Day. It tells the story of Edie Green, a 12-year-old girl who lives in Seattle with her parents. Over the course of a week in July, Edie discovers the truth about her Indigenous heritage, her mother’s history, and her grandmother’s life. Day, who belongs to the Upper Skagit Indigenous tribe in the Pacific Northwest, based her debut novel on her own family’s history. The book is a coming-of-age tale about family, belonging, and identity that incorporates references to real Indigenous history in North America. I Can Make This Promise won the American Indian Library Association’s Youth Literature Award in 2020.

This guide references the 2019 HarperCollins edition.

Content Warning: Both this guide and the novel reference historical and contemporary anti-Indigenous racism and discrimination, the impacts of cultural genocide, and familial separation.

Plot Summary

In the story’s Prologue, Edie Green thinks back to her first day of kindergarten. Her teacher asked her where she was from, trying to understand her racial background. Having grown up in Seattle, Edie was unsure what she was being asked or why. She reflects that this experience was the first time that she ever felt different. In the present day, Edie is 12, and it is the Fourth of July. She and her parents visit the nearby Tulalip Reservation to set off fireworks. Edie meets a stray dog and wants to help him find his family, but her parents stop her. They buy fireworks and set them off in a nearby field. Edie meets a boy named Roger who is about her age. He tells her that she looks Indigenous, which gives her an unfamiliar sense of belonging.

The next day, Edie and her two best friends meet up to discuss a short film that they are planning to make together. She suggests creating an animated short film about the dog she met the previous day. One of her friends, Serenity, likes the idea. The other friend, Amelia, is disparaging. The three girls look for popsicle molds in Edie’s attic. They find a box full of photographs and letters that Edie has never seen before. The photographs are of a woman who looks just like Edie, and the letters are signed, “Love, Edith.” Edie is shocked to learn that she apparently has a family member who shares her name. She knows her mother is Indigenous and that she was adopted by a white family as a baby, but she knows nothing else about her family’s history. Her friends leave, and Edie asks her parents where they got the idea for her name. They lie, claiming that Edith is a “classic” name. Edie decides not to tell them about the box, as she worries that they will keep lying about it.

Edie goes to the orthodontist to get braces. She worries that they will close the gap between her front teeth. Edith has the same gap in the photographs, and Edie wants to keep her connection with her. She feels frustrated, betrayed, and unsure of what to do next. Serenity advises her to talk to her parents. Even if they have hidden some information, she reasons, they probably have a good reason. Amelia disagrees; she wants Edie to keep the box a secret and wants to learn everything about the other Edith. The girls learn that Edith moved to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming an actress. Amelia suggests making the short film about Edith’s life, but Edie is uncomfortable with this suggestion. When she and her parents attend a birthday party for her uncle, Phil, Edie confronts him about the letters and photographs. He insists that she must speak to her mother if she wants to know the truth.

After reading more of Edith’s letters and learning that she managed to get acting roles in a few films, Edie visits Amelia’s house. She tells Amelia what she learned just before they take a trip downtown. To Edie’s dismay, another girl joins them: Libby, a girl who has bullied Edie for years. She feels betrayed when she learns that Amelia and Libby are friends now. Edie’s braces are painful, making it difficult for her to eat. Libby teases her about them, which makes the trip even worse. The following day, Edie confronts Amelia about her behavior. Realizing that the friendship is over, Edie ousts Amelia from the filmmaking project, opting to complete it with Serenity instead. When Edie and her mother go to the movies that night, they get into a fight about a movie poster. Edie wants to watch a film about an Indigenous woman, but her mother is uncomfortable. She later explains that the actress on the poster is a white woman playing a caricature of an Indigenous person. Edie accuses her mother of hiding things from her, but she still says nothing about the box of letters.

The following morning, Edie finally tells her parents what she learned. They decide to take the day off so that they can tell her about her family history. The three of them take the ferry across Puget Sound to Indianola, Washington. Edie’s parents take her to a beach that is of historical importance to Suquamish people. They explain that Edie’s ancestry traces back to Suquamish and Duwamish peoples. Next, they take her to a house that used to belong to her mother’s mother, Edith, and her uncle, Theodore. Edie’s mother tells her the truth about her history: Edith became pregnant when she was in LA. She returned home and planned to raise her baby, Edie’s mother, with the help of her brother and her mother. However, when she gave birth in a Seattle hospital, a social worker took the baby away and had her adopted by a white family. This practice was common at the time.

Edith never saw her daughter again. Edie’s mother managed to learn about her own history once she was an adult. Although Edie is deeply saddened by what she learned, she is glad to know where she comes from. The family, along with Uncle Phil and Serenity, attends an Indigenous gathering on the beach. The story’s epilogue takes place a few weeks later, in August. Serenity and Edie have completed their film: an animated story about the dog. The dog’s story of loneliness and ultimate acceptance echoes Edie’s own journey. In the book’s final pages, Edie reflects on how happy she is to be surrounded by people who love her and to understand her heritage.