The Book of Essie
by Meghan Maclean Weir
Length: 336 Pages
Release date: June 12, 2018
Blurb via GoodReads:
A debut novel of family, fame, and religion that tells the emotionally stirring, wildly captivating story of the seventeen-year-old daughter of an evangelical preacher, star of the family’s hit reality show, and the secret pregnancy that threatens to blow their entire world apart.
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?
The Book of Essie opens with this: “On the day I turn seventeen, there is a meeting to decide whether I should have the baby or if sneaking me to a clinic for an abortion is worth the PR risk. I am not invited, which is just as well, since my being there might imply that I have some choice in the matter and I know that I have none.” There is no easing the reader into the drama with this one; you know what the crisis is right from page one. What you don’t know is who fathered Essie’s baby, and that will remain unsaid for the bulk of the book.
Essie’s family is deeply conservative and religious. Despite this, the book does not come off as overly preachy, nor is it critical of that religiosity. Instead, a criticism of hypocrisy is woven throughout the story from start to finish. Essie’s father preaches humility to his congregation and the country at large, all while living in a mansion and wearing $300 ties. Essie’s disgust with her family is palpable.
The novel has three separate point of view characters: Essie, Roarke (the boy she hopes to marry to legitimize her pre-marital pregnancy), and Liberty Bell (a reporter and former member of a conservative cult). Essie is the clear main character, this being The Book of Essie, but I would have liked to see a bit more development for the other two point of view characters.
Liberty has a tragic backstory informing her choices, but it honestly feels like she could be cut as a POV character without the story losing much of value. Her backstory felt like a distraction and was frankly overkill, considering Essie’s story already explored similar themes: a young girl who becomes a victim of her hyper-conservative family’s choices and somewhat infamous on a national scale. This was probably intended to provide symmetry, but instead it simply felt superfluous.
Roarke’s story revolves around his deep, dark secret, which is revealed fairly early in the story and wasn’t terribly difficult to guess prior to that point. (On that note, most of the big reveals in this story were just a tad too predictable for my taste.) He never comes to feel like a totally fleshed-out person. Instead, it feels like he exists as a plot device, as something for Essie to obtain. That whole portion of the story feels very hollow, which is a shame because Roarke had some potential to be really engaging.
Essie’s interactions with her family members, especially her estranged sister, are the strongest aspect of the book. Essie has been content to play the “perfect Christian daughter” role for her family and their hit TV show prior to the start of the book. Now she’s fed up with pretending and being on display for the whole world, and just beginning to push back when we join her in her story. The Book of Essie is, in a lot of ways, about a young woman finding her strength and her voice. Overall, this was a good read, but it had the potential to be great.
Thank you for reading! Have you read The Book of Essie? What were your thoughts? Please share in the comments!