The Promise Between Us



Barnes & Noble


Signed copies available through Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill and
Purple Crow Books in Hillsborough.

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

"In this contemporary novel, a mother’s irrational fear that she might hurt her newborn baby leads to her abandoning the child. White (Echoes of Family, 2016, etc.) opens her tale as Katelyn MacDonald sits in her daughter’s nursery, suffering severe panic. Struggling with postpartum OCD, Katelyn sees one violent image after another in her mind. Although her daughter, Maisie, is crying in her crib, Katelyn cowers on the floor, afraid to pick her up for fear that she might hurt the child. When her husband, Callum, returns home, Katelyn confesses her worries and begs for help. Unfortunately, he misinterprets the pleas as threats, taking Maisie and barring Katelyn from their bedroom. The narrative then jumps a decade into the future; Callum has become Maisie’s primary caretaker, and Katelyn has not been a part of her daughter’s upbringing. After several difficult years, Katelyn has relocated to Durham, North Carolina, and taken up sculpting as a means of confronting and channeling her anxiety. When her art brings her to a docent program in Raleigh, where she lived with Callum and her daughter, she soon runs into Maisie, a talented student. Maisie believes her mother is dead, and Katelyn does not reveal her identity. As Katelyn, who now goes by Katie Mack, gets to know Maisie through the docent program, she begins to suspect that her daughter has inherited OCD. Rather than leaving town, Katie decides it is time for her to step up and prevent OCD from ruining her daughter’s life the way it did her own. Throughout the absorbing novel, White skillfully shows both Maisie and Katie dealing with destructive and irrational fears (“An old image pounced. One she hadn’t seen in a while. Her hands picking up Maisie…and throwing her down the stairs. The images of harming Maisie had long vanished because Maisie was no longer part of her life. But what if they were back in the same city?”). By taking readers inside the minds of several characters, the author paints a clear and unforgiving picture of mental illness and its ramifications. Although the narrative grows increasingly convoluted as the book progresses, the story feels realistic and relevant. In accessible and engrossing prose, this sentimental tale also explores the struggles inherent in parenting, coupling, and maintaining meaningful relationships. A challenging and important story about the difficulties of living with mental illness.”
- Kirkus Reviews.

The story behind the story for The Perfect Son

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
(Spoiler Alert!)

  • Katie and Callum both take extreme measures to protect Maisie from what they perceive as threats. Would you have acted as they did? Do you, or people around you, battle monsters? Does it make any difference whether those monsters are real or imaginary?

  • There are parallels between Katie’s intrusive thoughts and Callum’s intrusive memories. Katie’s anxiety is genetic, but stays dormant until the postpartum period. Callum’s is triggered—and retriggered—by trauma. Did their stories help you understand what it means to battle anxiety? What did the novel teach you about anxiety disorders?

  • Shame and then lack of resources prevent Katie from seeking professional help. Do you think we’ve made any progress in tackling the stigma that comes with mental illness? Does anyone close to you have experience in coping with mental illness without access to good resources, including health care?

  • Hindsight can be a blessing and a curse. Often it’s only after the death of a loved one that we can revisit the relationship with perspective and discover something that was hiding in plain sight. Have you ever reevaluated a relationship with someone in the way that Katie does with her mother? What did you learn?

  • Katie constantly reevaluates what it means to be a mom. What do you think defines a good mother? Can you imagine a situation in which you could give up your child and/or your parental rights as Katie did? Who do you think is Maisie’s real mother, and why?

  • Might Katie and Callum’s marriage have survived if they’d been honest and open with each other? Do you think they could have been? How does your family handle communication? Do you believe spouses should tell each other everything?

  • Callum is a tortured hero. Discuss his character arc. (Barbara would love to be part of any discussion about Callum, so don’t forget she can Skype into your book club.)

  • Jake is another dark Barbara Claypole White character. What did you make of his journey? Did you feel empathy for him? Did your feelings about him change during the course of the novel?

  • Driven by guilt, loyalty, and a childhood promise, Jake packs up his life and moves across the country for his best friend. Is there a person for whom you would do that?

  • Katie’s relationship with Jake is at the heart of this novel. How does it change and grow, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

  • In what ways do creative endeavors become therapy for the different characters? Have you ever used art as therapy?

  • The Winnie-the-Pooh lamp plays a significant role in the novel. Is there an object from your childhood that still carries meaning? If so, why do you think that is?

  • Barbara met her husband thirty years ago at JFK Airport. For this reason, she’s drawn to the notion that people who need each other find each other and that quirks of fate can be life changing. How do both of these themes drive this story?

  • Did you spot the references to Barbara’s other novels? Do you have a favorite character from her stories, and if so, who? Barbara writes stand-alone novels, but do you see continuities?

Please download this printer friendly version of the reading group guide The Promise Between Us.

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