Tuesday, June 12, 2018

*Review* The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Published: June 12, 2018
Pages: 336

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?

I received a copy of this book through Penguin's First to Read program. This is my honest review. 

By the time I started reading this book, I had forgotten exactly what it was about the blurb that had intrigued me in the first place. Early on I even found myself worried that I would probably not enjoy the book much at all after reading an offhanded comment from Essie about what a "left-wing blogger" would have said about her. I'm quite liberal, so the comment put me on the defensive. I'm glad I continued reading though, because in the end, I think I'm definitely in the target audience for the story. 

This story is told from three perspectives: Essie's, Roarke's, and Liberty Bell's. This gives us a fairly broad perspective on the story as a whole, and allows us to get closer to each of these characters to better understand their motivations. I found the backstory we get from Liberty to be particularly interesting in explaining why Essie chose her for the exclusive interviews. And Roarke proves to be an excellent choice of partner for Essie for several reasons that I won't get into (because spoilers!).

While I was reading, I kept feeling like Essie's life seemed to mirror or echo the life of one of the Duggar girls. Conservative, very religious, raised on television...about the only difference is that Essie is not homeschooled, a decision made by the production team to make her seem more relatable. I know I have always wondered how much of the Duggars' life on film is essentially scripted for the show, and while this story isn't actually about the Duggars, I still feel like it confirms what I've suspected. 

Overall I give The Book of Essie 4.9275 stars. - Katie 

MEGHAN MACLEAN WEIR was raised in the rectory of her father’s church in Southbridge, Massachusetts, and later moved with her family to Buffalo, New York. Her memoir Between Expectations: Lessons from a Pediatric Residency chronicles her years in training at Boston Medical Center and Boston Children’s Hospital. She continues to live and work as a physician in the Boston area. THE BOOK OF ESSIE is her first novel.

The author holds degrees in Molecular Biology and Medical Anthropology from Princeton and Oxford Universities, respectively, as well as an MD from the Stony Brook School of Medicine. She has participated in research and training programs in South Africa, Liberia, and Sri Lanka that have been funded in part by the Stony Brook School of Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine as well as hospital publications at both her former and current institutions and excerpts of her writing have been used in the Humanism in Medicine curriculum for interns at the Boston Combined Residency Program.

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