Lately the book subscription that intrigues me the most is the Book of the Month Club, however, it does not ship to Canada. So instead I’m watching their selections as they are announced and request books from the library or even buy them at Canadian stores. Obviously, I’d prefer the subscription, but for the time being, I feel like this is a decent way to pick which books to read.
One of the books that really caught my attention was the debut novel from Meghan MacLean Weir, The Book of Essie. I normally don’t read much contemporary, and when I do it’s definitely not about reality TV or religion. However, there was just something about the way the synopsis was phrased (combined with it’s inclusion in BotM) that piqued my interest.
The plot centres not only around Essie herself, but her upper-classmate, Roarke, and a complicated tabloid journalist for print and TV, Libby. Essie Hicks discovers that she is pregnant and – being the star of a Keeping Up With The Kardashians style reality show about their Evangelically religious family – is not left with many options. The family decides that marriage is their best way to mask the pregnancy, leaving Essie entirely out of the decision making… or so they think.
Meanwhile, Roarke is struggling with family issues of his own. Too poor to say their store and their home while also being too poor to send their son to college, Roarke and his family get swept up in the Hicks’ family drama while still very much dealing with his own.
And through all of this, ex-cultist Liberty Bell is trying to make a name for herself now that she has outgrown the hyper-religious, survivalist, and intolerant up-bringing she fought her way through. Having been in what she believes to be the same suffocating situation as Essie, Libby is striving to help this young girl get to a point where she can live her own life and not the life of her parents.
The three perspectives are incredibly insightful and honestly lead to a story with far more depth than what one might initially think. The characters are fully developed in their trauma and their beliefs while showing growth even before the story really starts. What I really loved best with this novel was how it delved into the consent from children into religion as well as celebrity life. It explored intolerance and how that can have very different reactions from each person who is forced into trying to change themselves. It explores cult mentality and how fanatics and extremists of anything are really no different than what society considers a cult.
But most importantly, this is a book about being brave. It is about holding your chin high and doing what you know is right, even if it is hard. It is about strength in friendships.
Trigger Warnings [[ spoilers ]]
Despite how much I love this novel, I do want to mention that there are strong mentions of homophobia, conversion therapy, suicide, racism, and sexual assault.
Author: Meghan Maclean Weir
Published: June 12, 2018
Synopsis: Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks,a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage–and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?