The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
Published by Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: June 12, 2018
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Fiction, Contemporary
For most young girls, being seventeen and pregnant is not a good place to be. For Esther Hicks it’s even worse because she is the youngest daughter of a fundamentalist pastor and part of a reality TV show about their family. With a life played out in front of the camera and the nation, how can this be anything but catastrophic for Essie, and more importantly, for the show’s ratings? Thankfully, her mother, Celia, has a solution—a wedding. And just like that, in Meghan Weir’s addictive debut novel, The Book of Essie, sin has been vanquished and love conquers all. Or does it?
Of course, a wedding needs a groom, but this is not a problem for Celia and she duly produces one she deems appropriate. Roarke Richards is a handsome senior at Essie’s school, but they’ve never spoken and he dislikes her family and everything they stand for, so why would he agree to marry her? But he does and all that’s left is the media. The fans want every intimate detail of the young couple’s story. Essie agrees, but only on the condition that the interviewer is Liberty Bell, a conservative reporter. Best known for her family’s part in occupying government land while awaiting the second coming and forcing a government standoff she also published a successful book of her inflammatory beliefs while still in high school.
Essie, Roarke, and Liberty each narrate their own chapters, quickly making it evident that everyone has an agenda. On television since she was an infant, Essie’s life has been life massaged, manipulated, and controlled for the viewing audience. She is a product of her environment, but what is her end game?
She smiles when it is expected. She says all the right things. She is the exact combination of humble and sarcastic that gives the impression that she might actually be real. But she isn’t. She’s a fabrication. A meticulously constructed and lifelike illusion, but an illusion all the same.
Through these three, none of whom has any reason to trust the other, Weir plots a novel that hits hard at the polarizing tenets of evangelical Christianity. She goes beyond the rallying cry of family values to the hypocrisy, shame, and hate that lie behind professions of faith, love, and charity. From the first page to the last, there is no room to breathe in The Book of Essie. And yet, this isn’t the kind of high octane, power-plot novel that barrels down a single lane. At every turn, Weir moves the reader onto a different path, provoking thought about options and repercussions.
The Book of Essie is so immersive that at the peak of the novel’s drama I froze and gasped (not easy to do, but trust me, it happened). It’s a literary Rubik’s Cube—every click sends previous perfectly matched pieces out of sync, forcing new calibrations. Intelligent and fierce, this is the kind of reading I want all the time.