November 1938 and the second World War is just around the distant corner. In Annemarie Allan’s middle grade novel, Charlie’s Promise, Josef and his mum find themselves at the docks waiting to board a boat setting sail for Scotland. Sadly, she doesn’t have enough money to send them both. Taking the heartbreaking decision to save her son, she entrusts him to the captain and his crew as they make their way over the icy waters to Edinburgh. She waves to him from the docks, hoping that he finds her relatives in the city and stays safe in the increasingly hostile world they now find themselves in.
A few hundred miles away, Charlie is heading to school under the stern gaze of his Mum. He tries his best but the constant feeling of disappointing her swamps him as he trudges to school. His family live on the outskirts of the capital in a quiet and humble village – he’s never been to the city with its trams and smelly chimneys that blow vast plumes of black into the sky.
Josef makes it to dry land and escapes the mean captain, he hides out in the woods not far from Charlie’s home and it’s not long before the two boys meet. Both petrified of being caught – Josef, from the men in uniform that haunt his dreams and Charlie from the headmaster who glares too long at the caliper on his foot, urging him to fail at every life-hurdle that comes his way.
Whispers in the village of a ghost hiding in the woods, mean that Charlie and his friend Jean must help Josef find his family in the city before he’s found by the police. Charlie made a promise to help him and will keep to his word, no matter what.
Charlie’s Promise is a fantastic tale of adventure and mayhem at every turn, the three unlikely friends find themselves in all sorts of predicaments as they evade the police, parents and irate villagers in their quest to reunite Josef with his Uncle.
Annemarie Allan’s novel is a poignant story of friendship and loyalty, reinforcing the message that it doesn’t matter what you look like or where you come from,
we should all take a leaf out of Charlie and Jeans’ book and help those in need when we can.