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I received this book for free from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. If you've read my other reviews, you'll know that if it's bad, I'll say so, regardless of how I received the book.The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
Published by Knopf Publishing Group on June 12, 2018
Source: First to Read
Buy on Book Depository
I’ve wanted a book that consumes me. One that keeps me awake, and that I’m unable to put down. I last felt that intoxicating feeling months ago reading The Hate U Give. I got it with The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir.
Esther Ann Hicks—Essie—is 16-years old and was born into a massively successful and lucrative evangelical reality television franchise. Every family choice is managed and orchestrated for the greatest appeal. Family decisions are tested with focus groups, and nothing is left to chance. Including the response to Essie’s pregnancy.
I re-read the end of The Book of Essie three or four times over the next 24 hours. I was that taken with it. From the start, there’s more to Essie. She knows how to eavesdrop on her mother and the show’s producers. She has a full understanding of her family, the expected behaviors, and the amount of money involved. We see a dysfunctional family that performs for the cameras. Her mother and the producers decide the “safest” option is to get Essie married as soon as possible. They can’t risk her being seen getting an abortion and sending her overseas to give birth and adopting out the child is problematic. I had forgotten this (I re-read the blurb), but they even discuss passing the child off as being Essie’s new younger sibling. Essie learns all this from her eavesdropping hidey-hole. Except Essie has other plans.
I love this as an exposé on reality television and many evangelical congregations. What we see is rarely the truth. This all was unsurprising to me, but also kind of new. I don’t watch reality TV, and a GoodReads review said it’s an unoriginal retelling of 19 Kids and Counting, including with the scandal that ended the show. It probably is, but I loved the details in it. Essie, who was isolated from most of the world, takes control, even recruiting a husband.
I’m talking a lot about Essie, but the book has several points of view. There is also her 18-year old fiancé, Roarke Richards; a senior at Essie’s school. He has his own secrets in their small town. And Liberty Bell, the television journalist to whom Essie sells exclusive rights to her wedding preparation. Libby grew up in a cult and exposed her family for what it was in a tell-all book, but is now wondering if she did the right thing.
The different viewpoints blend well. Essie has set up a chain of events and is orchestrating her escape from her family, so we learn details as Libby and Roarke do. We see them all struggling in their way of how to deal with each revelation and what the larger impact is.
Many will hate The Book of Essie. It pulls the curtains back on many lives and beliefs that I haven’t personally encountered but wouldn’t be surprised are true. And that’s just the framework for showing abuse and misogyny. I know those are real and in the evangelical groups.
I’m hoping The Book of Essie will be a large success. It’s empowering to all who feel forced to hide themselves, not just women.