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Literature / Promise Of A Future

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Promise of a Future is American author Stephanie McCall's second book, a young adult novel published in 2014. Its protagonist is eighteen-year-old Kate McCune, a college student with cerebral palsy. Although Kate is very high-functioning, her family insists she live at home and commute. She also has to deal with abuse from fellow students and the college's administration, so much that she wants to transfer out.


Kate's Aunt Elinor, married to Kate's mother's brother, steps in to help her niece. She and her husband volunteer to help Kate find a new college and thus, the independence Kate craves. Along the way, Kate also helps her aunt, who is pregnant with her first child and dealing with her own issues from a troubled past, including the vestiges of anorexia nervosa. Family secrets, faith, and complex characters abound.

Associated tropes include:

  • Abusive Parents: Elinor's mother was horribly psychologically abusive toward her. Readers find out it's because the mother is schizophrenic.
  • Acceptable Hard Luck Targets: The bullies, student and adult, at Kate's college believe people with disabilities are this to one degree or another. This inspires Kate to become a Bully Hunter with a pen (or laptop, as the case may be).
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  • Adult Fear: Your child is gifted, but has a disability and must endure bullying from many people. She also fears you will send her to a group home because your small town lacks disability services. Or in the case of Elinor, the thought of marrying someone who would psychologically abuse your child and also practically gift-wrap an eating disorder.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Kate's dad calls her "Kitten." He gives her a real kitten as a Christmas gift, explaining that since he calls her that, he figured she'd like a real one.
  • Alpha Witch Vanessa Worthington, a sorority queen at Kate's college, is this. But this being a Christian-based book, we'll call her an Alpha Witch.
  • As Long as There is Evil: Because this is a Christian work, this is a theme. Kate and Elinor, and the characters around them, have to come to terms with the fact that this trope means there will always be people in the world who treat others like crap and get away with it, but...
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  • As Long as There is One Man: Or woman, as the case may be. What Kate learns and expresses through her writing.
  • Author Avatar: Mc Call has said in interviews that she and Kate are quite similar, but that all of the events happening to Kate are almost 100% fiction.
  • Babies Ever After: As mentioned, Elinor is pregnant throughout the book. The baby's sex and the couple's name choice are revealed at the end. It's a girl; her name is Rebecca Rose.
  • Bad Future: Most if not all Elinor and Kate's motivations stem from their fear of these. Kate fears being sent to a group home; Elinor fears contracting schizophrenia like her mom and being consigned to a mental facility.
  • Berserk Button: Do not call Kate retarded. Don't do it to any other person with a disability in her hearing, either.
  • The Bible: Read and quoted.
  • Book Worm: Both Kate and Elinor; one of the reasons they're so close.
  • Broken Ace: Elinor. She's smart enough for Mensa, and through Kate's introspection, we learn she also excels athletically. Her Nordic good looks make Elinor beautiful, but she doesn't see her own beauty or worth because of her childhood.
  • Bully Hunter: Kate becomes a mild variety when she begins writing disability activist columns for the college paper under an assumed name. Without addressing any individual, she calls out those who bully both her and other students with disabilities at her school, all of whom have more severe disabilities than she does and have been placed in a "special" program for disabled students.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Kate eventually learns she has an uncle who has severe Down Syndrome and was institutionalized as a little kid after an accident that nearly killed him. She calls out her parents, and by extension her entire family, asking why this was done.
  • Character Tics: Kate has a treasured Celtic cross necklace she fiddles with when upset. Elinor rubs her temple when stressed. She can also raise her left eyebrow, and only her left, at will.
  • Child Prodigy: Elinor was this; she skipped kindergarten, won the National Spelling Bee, and was a child chess champion.
  • Cinderella Circumstances: Elinor, who was regularly berated, given little or nothing to eat because her mother believed she was fat, and locked in closets for small infractions, real and imagined.
  • The Clan: Kate and Elinor's family is big. Like, Duggar big—at least six pairs of aunts and uncles, four grandparents, and at least 12 cousins, though Kate herself is an only child. Double points because the family is also of Scots-Irish descent and proud of it.
  • Condescending Compassion: This is sometimes the way Ms. Throckmorton, the Dean Bitterman Disability Services department head, and one instructor under her, act toward Kate. For example, they use it to try to make her go into her university's "disabled students only" program ("We know college is hard, honey; you'll be safer this way when you fail because in our program, grades don't count.") Kate doesn't buy it, which just makes them mad.
  • Cool Loser: Kate. She's intelligent, a great creative writer, and nice to almost everyone, but a lot of people assume her cerebral palsy makes her a loser.
  • Cool Teacher: Kate's geometry professor. He knows his class—a core requirement—is hard for her because she has no depth perception and therefore, no way to interact effectively with a lot of the material in the class. He helps her modify the curriculum so she can succeed.
  • Cool Uncle: Kate's Uncle Rob, but her other uncles get points as well. Elinor is a full-stop Cool Aunt. She and Kate are both bookworms, Bible mavens, and introverts, among other common traits.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Dana Throckmorton and Ms. Gunther, the two disability service workers Kate encounters, subvert this so much it could be considered Cruel Mercy. The two women sincerely believe that by placing Kate in a segregated program for severely disabled college students, where grades don't count, behavior plans must be adhered to, and every move is controlled, they are protecting her from failure. But what they're really doing is taking away her shot at a real education and social normalcy. In fact, their Condescending Compassion makes it almost impossible not to see them as villains.
    • In a much straighter example, this is why Kate's parents consented to several leg and eye operations when she was little. It's implied that without them, Kate's CP would affect her more than it does, and she would be in constant physical pain. However, Kate's mother does reflect that maybe they did the wrong thing, and Kate's dad tells Kate flat out that they made some mistakes in dealing with her disability.
  • Daddy's Girl: Elinor. Her father got her safely away from Mom after he learned about Mom's abuse. Even before then, they were quite close.
    • There are small but frequent hints that Kate is this, perhaps because her father is less overprotective than her mother.
  • Dare To Be BadButt: Kate's friends, and Elinor, give her a couple of these early in the book while she's still recovering from the early shock of being bullied in her new environment. Special mention goes to Bridget, who's a year older than Kate, offers to be her sorority big sister, and encourages her to share her feelings about being a person with a disability. To paraphrase: "Either sit here and keep letting those turkeys think you need to be taught how to tie your shoes—in your twenties—or show them you're a fantastic, cool person." Kate takes the challenge and performs with aplomb.
  • Deadpan Snarker: One of Kate's friends, Bridget, can be this. Kate has her moments, also.
  • Dean Bitterman: Dana Throckmorton, head of the Disability Services Department at Kate's college, is this. She sincerely believes disabled students are perpetual children who cannot learn and must be monitored for behavior problems; she also sees any protest of her methods as a behavioral issue. She eventually crosses the line into verbal abuse toward Kate and is investigated and fired for her actions.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Elinor, so much so that she began to hate and avoid food, and became anorexic because of it. She gets better.
  • Determinator: Kate is definitely one, if for no other reason than she knows she is not what everyone thinks and wants to prove them wrong, even if some of those people are loved ones. To a lesser degree, Elinor is also this.
  • Dinner and a Show: Every Friday night, the Mc Cune clan comes to Kate's home for dinner. Due to the sheer number of people, this usually results.
  • Disabled Means Helpless: Loving as they are, Kate's parents and some of her family members sometimes show shades of this attitude. The biggest offender is her paternal Aunt Heather, who believes people with disabilities should be sheltered and not treated as "regular people." Somewhat justified in that she saw an accident severely injure her younger brother, who has Down Syndrome. For years, she has blamed this on her parents' attempt to raise him as "normally" as possible.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Kate gets this a lot. She's a nice girl. She gets almost all A's in college, which is difficult for a freshman. She's also determined to transcend her disability. But as far as her university is concerned, she's a Heroine With Bad Publicity. She's not above asking what gives, either.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Both Kate and Elinor think they have to do this, partially to curry divine favor.
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics: Kate. Justified in that her CP makes it difficult; she has no visual ability to interact with 3-D figures, and she also can't write with a pencil, which precludes showing her work in any way.
  • Family Business: Kate's mom, grandmas, and aunts all work at a family business called Fruit Of Her Hands Catering. It gets a Biblical Bonus for the name.
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence: Vanessa Worthington's justification for bullying Kate.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Implied. All of Kate's female relatives cook in the family catering business, in addition to other duties such as taking care of the books. Kate considers learning to cook a big step toward independence.
  • Forgiven, but Not Forgotten: Kate takes this attitude toward Vanessa after the latter finally snaps and attempts to seriously harm Kate in a No Holds Barred Beat Down, for which she is caught, expelled, and arrested. Kate's exact words upon confronting her are, "I don't forgive you. I will, but it'll take time."
  • For Your Own Good: This is Throckmorton and Gunther's main justification for trying to get Kate into a cognitively inappropriate college program for students with disabilities.
  • Friendless Background: Kate initially has this, but makes friends fairly quickly. Elinor had this as a kid because she was shy and considered a nerd, but did make at least one best friend in school.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Kate gets along well with most animals. In one scene, she helps a stray dog brought to her uncle's vet clinic calm down. One of her Christmas gifts at the end is a kitten, which also puts her into Kind Hearted Cat Lover territory.
  • Freudian Excuse: Vanessa Worthington has one. Her parents run a group home, and they cater to the residents but neglect her. Thus, she hates individuals with disabilities.
  • Future Me Scares Me: Overlapping with Bad Future, Kate has a vivid daydream where she sees herself in her worst imagining of a group home for the disabled. She is disheveled, isolated, and physically forced to undergo rigorous therapies and treatments.
  • Genius Cripple: Somewhat subverted. Kate is a gifted writer and loves literature, but she's not necessarily a literary genius. That being said, she's more intellectual than most peers.
  • Girl Posse: Vanessa Worthington's sorority sisters.
  • Grade Skipper: Elinor was this as a kid.
  • Hey, You!: Vanessa never calls Kate by her name. Instead, she uses disability slurs such as "crip" and "retard."
  • I Am Not My Mother Elinor goes through this, fearing that because her mother abused her, she will turn right around and abuse her baby, particularly if it's a daughter.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Both Kate and Elinor feel this way, mostly because they've been told they are unattractive. Rob helps Elinor deal with this, but for Kate, realization of her beauty has to come gradually, through small instances.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: Elinor has these. Kate notes that when Elinor is dead serious or wants the truth, they lighten to the point that it can almost hurt to look at her, although Elinor is not one of The Fair Folk or any other magical being. The color is also used to highlight her intelligence, innate cool logic, and Nordic good looks.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Kate, although her forays into advocacy do help her understand "normal" is a loaded and often unhealthy word.
  • Inherent in the System: Discussed when Kate becomes interested in disability rights and advocacy. Her family agrees that students with disabilities are treated badly in their town and it needs to stop. Yet, they also believe certain constructs of dealing with disability are simply inherent in the way the world works, and to try changing them would cause more harm than good. This is also part of why Kate has such a hard time with her college's Disability Service offices—some of the powers that be struggle to believe university life can truly include students with disabilities 100% of the time.
  • Important Haircut: Near the end of the book, Kate gets her hair cut much shorter, as it's more stylish and easier to care for.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Kate does not want to be seen as this, and she is also adamant that other students with disabilities be seen as regular people rather than this. In interviews, Mc Call has explained she herself has CP and has dealt with the trope, and therefore wanted her characters to transcend it.
  • Insistent Terminology: A couple of Kate's family members and friends do this to her when she calls herself a disabled person. They insist she is a person with a disability, thus putting her identity first. Initially, Kate thinks they're just being politically correct, but comes to accept that the new term does help redefine her as a person rather than a diagnosis.
  • Internalized Categorism: Kate has internalized all the negative things people say about her disability, so she sees herself as bad because she has one. Sometimes, she will even refuse help because in her mind, this will cause people to believe she's acting disabled—that is, proving stereotypes true. Elinor has some of this too, but it's not tied to race, disability, creed, or any specific trait. She's just internalized her mother's insistence that she is a bad person. Both women do get better, though.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Kate. Justified in that she is bullied in college, her family is overprotective, and she fears being sent to a group home after finishing her education. She gets better with counseling.
  • Jumped at the Call: Elinor is eager to help Kate find independence. She does show moments of hesitation in a silent dialogue with God, but it's clear she still wants to step in.
  • Kindly Vet: Kate's Uncle Rob.
  • Lady and a Scholar: Aunt Elinor, who is both smart enough for Mensa and an expert at manners, including Politeness Judo when the situation demands it.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: To varying degrees, Kate and Elinor both do this to their families and have it done to them.
  • Luminescent Blush: Elinor has one of these whenever she's embarrassed or flustered. In fact, it could cross into rosacea, since she's described as feeling wets rising on her neck if the blush is deep enough.
  • Mama Bear: Kate's mother. Do not mess with Kate when she's around.
  • Meaningful Name: Elinor's maiden name was Darcy. Thus, her full maiden name, Elinor Darcy, becomes a (perhaps unintentional) allusion to Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.
  • Missing Mom: Elinor technically has one after her parents get divorced because her mother is diagnosed with violent schizophrenia and institutionalized.
  • [[Nephewism Nieceism]] Kate never lives with Elinor and Rob, but she does spend a lot of time with them as they help her try to find a new college, which further cements their relationship. They're essentially a second pair of parents.
  • Nightmare Fuel: In universe, Elinor's childhood gives her a fair share of nightmares. Kate also has a daydream about being trapped in a Group Home Of Fear.
  • Only Child Syndrome: Both Kate and Elinor are only children. Both are also perfectionists, intelligent, and to some degree, loners.
  • Group Home of Fear The closest thing Kate imagines homes for the disabled to be is an Orphanage of Fear, where adults are given no autonomy, strictly monitored, punished for imaginary infractions, and perhaps abused. She visits a fictional group home that is not abusive, but does not give the residents autonomy, and her fears are cemented. When she visits her Uncle Isaac in a real one, she finds out they are not all this. Elinor has a fear of mental institutions that crosses into this at times.
  • Papa Wolf: Elinor's dad was this while she was growing up.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: Occurs when Rob, Elinor, and Kate are involved in a fender bender.
  • Redhead in Green: Some brief examples for Kate, who is said to really like the color. She wears an emerald tweed coat and matching beret in one scene. During her "makeover" scene, we see her in a dressing room trying on, among other things, a green-and-black argyle sweater and faux emerald bracelet.
  • Rousing Speech: Kate gives a version of one near the end. After Vanessa finally snaps and gives Kate a No Holds Barred Beat Down, the latter is called into student court. Kate represents herself during the proceedings. In the course of this, she explains that her main concern is not seeing Vanessa and her cohorts punished; it is seeing students with disabilities treated as respectable individuals with real feelings, because they are valuable community members. Kate's newspaper articles may be considered this as well.
  • Self-Harm: Kate scratches herself and draws blood in response to the trials she experiences. She gets better with counseling.
  • Significant Green Eyed Red Head: Kate. Justified because she is the lead character. It's also noted that even in her family of Irish descent, she's the only one with this combo because it's rare in real life.
  • Shaming the Mob: Of a sort. The pro-disability articles Kate writes are not meant to shame specific people, but they are meant to challenge and/or shame the idea that persons with disabilities are second-class. They are also meant to challenge the traditional ways disabilities are dealt with at Kate's university (forced participation in "voluntary work hours," placing grown adults on "behavior plans," and so forth).
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Kate has a mild example. All her life, she has limited herself to wearing plain clothing, elastic-waist pants, and simple hairstyles because of her CP. With the help of her friends, she eventually decides to cut her hair and dress in clothes she likes, rather than clothes that cater to her disability. As a result, she looks and feels much more stylish.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Kate does this to Vanessa and her Girl Posse a couple of times. Being who they are, they don't care.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Elinor is definitely this. Some of Kate's interior dialogue shows she wants to become this and is well on her way.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Elinor, who is a chess champion. She also teaches Kate to play.
  • Stage Mom: Elinor's mother was this, having been an actress and a beauty pageant coach.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: In an inversion, Kate sometimes says this to herself if she feels she's done something that would make other people assume she has an intellectual disability as well as a physical one. She eventually gets better.
  • Weight Woe: Elinor is a complete inversion. She's self-conscious because she's so tall and skinny, and struggles to gain weight so that she and her unborn baby can be healthy. In fact, her doctor threatens that if she can't gain weight, Elinor will be placed on bed rest. The results are up and down for awhile, but she eventually does gain what she needs.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Elinor has a version of this—claustrophobia. Readers find out it's because she was regularly locked in closets and cupboards as a kid.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: This is the way Kate's university generally views their students who have cognitive disabilities, autism, or other moderate-to-severe handicaps. The university's paper even publishes an entire article on this once, calling the students "brave" for doing ordinary things and making a big deal of their receiving good grades in classes—while simultaneously pointing out that because of the rules of the program they're in, their grades don't count. Yet, aren't they wonderful for attempting to succeed in college?
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Elinor and Kate say/do this to each other, though it's more indirect in Kate's case. Both women also hear this from other important people in their lives.

Alternative Title(s): Literature Promise Of A Future


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