Imagine knowing something terrible is about to happen, and yet being powerless to prevent it. This is the predicament 16-year-old Ryan Colton finds himself confronting in J. Lee Graham’s emotional debut novel, The Promise of Living. Though this is very much a story about self-acceptance, it’s also a poignant illustration of how we should treasure those we love while we can, because there’s no telling when they might be taken from us.
To Ryan, the small community of Wilson’s Ferry where everyone knows everyone else’s business, seems both stifling and mind-numbingly dull. He applies himself to his studies in the hope of getting into a good college, earns money laboring on a local farm, and dreams of one day exploring the wider world.
If, somewhere deep inside, he’s aware that his feelings for his best friend Dave go beyond simple friendship, he chooses to ignore them. Things continue as normal, until, during the summer before his final year of high school, Ryan experiences the first vision and his life changes forever.
Learning some of the town’s darker secrets is unpleasant enough, but the true horror sets in when he receives a premonition of a murder. Despite all his efforts, Ryan is unable to see clearly enough to identify either victim or killer, and so can do nothing to avert the tragedy. Utterly devastated, and desperate to gain control over his visions, Ryan enlists the help of Skylar, one of his more open-minded classmates, who introduces him to a psychic. As Ryan grows in confidence, mastering his gift in an attempt to unmask the murderer, he comes to terms with his sexuality and, in turn, his love for Dave.
The Promise of Living certainly isn’t a novel for the faint-hearted. It has more than its fair share of harrowing moments, and one twist in particular shocked me so much that I had to put the book down for a while before going back to it. For all the grimness, however, there are some tender scenes, and overall I found it incredibly inspirational.
In defiance of the tough hand fate deals him, Ryan somehow comes through his ordeal, not only stronger, but the kind of young man any parent would be proud of.
If you enjoy novels that combine the clairvoyant with harsh reality, and which don’t shy away from the more disturbing aspects of life, you may well want to give this one a go.