Review of The Promise of Jesse Woods

My husband is a very disciplined reader.

Unlike his wife, he is somehow able to set a book down at the end of a chapter and pick up the next day. I am in awe, like an addict who wonders how people can stop at just one.

The Promise of Jesse Woods has done something that few, if any, books have ever done. My husband fell asleep at 4:00 in the morning, unable to hold his eyes open another second, after reading page after page, chapter after chapter.

My husband’s thirst to flip to the next page says it all. If you like picking up books you can’t put down, you’re about to have a new favorite for your shelf.

Without giving away the story, which is woven expertly enough that you’ll want to plan a significant chunk of time so you won’t have to put it down, here are the elements that make this book something special.

The Characters

Matt Plumley is an overweight preacher’s kid approaching adolescence in his new Appalachian town, Dogwood, West Virginia.

Jesse Woods is an unkempt, tough-talking, emerald-blue-eyed womanchild everybody calls “trash.”

Dickie Darrell Lee Hancock is a glasses-wearing army brat with a black father and a white mother who only hopes his dad will survive Vietnam.

The Story

Matt is a quiet kid smarting from the absence of his big brother when he moves to Dogwood, his father’s hometown where the family has been called to minister.

Lonely and self-conscious, he hops on his bike and wanders down the dusty road. When he’s confronted by a dilemma – a horse is injured but no one’s around to help – his decision to act reveals his need to make a difference, and he is rewarded with two new friends. Even if his MawMaw is scandalized by his choice of companions.

As the moral compass to his delinquent flock, he begins to see the world through the eyes of “the least of these.”

As the summer of 1972 progresses, over glowing embers with specks of roasted marshmallows on their cheeks, the trio forms a bond that will shape each of their identities. A spit and a promise determine the courses of their futures.

One thing Matt knows for sure is that the people around him need help. What he has yet to learn is that he does too.

Why This Book Will Become a Classic

Aside from the story which captures you by the throat from the get-go, the description is indescribable. Just try reading this book without grabbing someone to read them a paragraph or two. You can’t; you’ll bust. That, or you’re a more disciplined reader than I am. 🙂

On meeting new friends:

“…A big-boned girl came up beside me. She had the same red hair and light complexion as the boy playing basketball. She stared at me with abject fascination, then pulled at her dress, which could not hide her large frame or budding femininity. Her hair was short and she had the first signs of acne. Her upper lip didn’t reach all the way to the lower one, so she had the countenance of a chipmunk.

“’You the preacher’s boy?’ she said.

“I introduced myself, holding out a hand. She took it daintily, like she wasn’t sure how to respond, and dipped her head in a curtsy like I was royalty. ‘I’m Shur-uhl,’ she said. Later I learned that this was short for Shirley and her last name was Turley, and I immediately felt both sorrow for her and contempt for her parents. I also learned that Shirl’s father, Burl, had been a leader in the church but had died several years earlier and that the Turleys and the Blackwoods were cousins and stuck closer than worms in a can.

“’I’m not going to be eatin’ anything at the picnic,’ Shirl said.

“I wasn’t sure why she would offer such personal information, but I couldn’t think of anything to say but ‘Why not?’

“’Upset stomach. Mommy made me all the whipped cream I could eat last night. Once you get started, you can’t stop.’

“I nodded.”

On Matt’s new town:

“Dogs barked and stretched at chains. Chickens clucked, and along the road a meandering creek worked its way through the countryside like a wet scar. Rusty mailboxes hung to rotting wooden posts. Gnats buzzed about my head and gargantuan flies lit on my back and drew blood before I felt the sting. I would discover these were horseflies.”

“Fireflies rose from the earth like prayers. Locals called them lightning bugs. When we used to come here on vacation, we’d poke holes in mason jar lids and use the jars as lanterns. We’d put in grass to keep the bugs comfy, but they would be dead in a day or two. Living in Dogwood took all the fun out of lightning bugs.”

On Jesse Woods:

“She had dirty-blonde hair and was barefoot. Her cutoff jeans were a little too big for her frame, but she had strung a piece of rope through the belt loops as a belt. The shorts were frayed white and her T-shirt had faded to a cream color that looked almost brown against her milky-white skin. When the dog stuck his head out from under the house and barked, she yelled, ‘Shut your yap,’ and Carl obeyed.

“As she drew closer, I saw her lithe, wiry frame, thin legs and arms. She moved like a cat with no wasted motion. She crossed her arms in front of her and I noticed her fingernails were cut to the quick. Her cheeks were filled with freckles and when I caught sight of her blue eyes, I nearly forgot why I had walked up to the house. I had read about such beauty in books and about people so caught up with seeing someone that their heart nearly skipped a beat, but I had never experienced the feeling until now.

“’You’re not from around here, are you?’ she said.

“She was a little taller than me, but not much, and two of her front teeth sat forward from the rest as if trying to get a better view.


I’ll refrain from sharing any more, but it’s hard. Add to that a gripping plot and you’ll see why reading this book is pure pleasure.

The Main Reason I Love This Book

This book shines the light on the invisible people, the ones no one acknowledges or invites to their parties. Those that sat in darkness shine in the spotlight of this book.

This book honors the least of these. It’s a gift to the world – both to those who’ve never been treated with honor and to those who will discover the richness of honoring them. Inasmuch as we’ve done it unto the least of these, His brethren, Jesus says, we’ve done it unto Him. This book will inspire much good to be done to both.

The story, like life, is unpredictable. I didn’t see the end coming. After chewing on it, I decided I liked the ending. Just like in my life, things haven’t always ended like I planned, they ended the way they should’ve. That’s how this book is. It doesn’t end bad, just realistically. Don’t expect all the loose ends to get fixed. Some hurts must wait for heaven to heal. Some perps must wait for Judgment Day. It’s coming, though.

I flat love this book. I highly recommend it, most especially for anyone ages 35-55. They’ll be most likely to appreciate the cultural descriptions of the time period. That doesn’t mean my 12-year old won’t like it. People with hangups about skin color or class structure might not enjoy it, though.

Tyndale provided this book to me free for my honest review. I’m in love with Tyndale. That is all.


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